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Showing posts with label creator-consumer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label creator-consumer. Show all posts

Friday, November 28, 2014 6 comments

Writing Wibbles: Search Engine 101 for Authors

Monday night, I saw this tweet:


Being the diplomatic soul that I am, I responded “I call BS” before even reading the article. Then, I thought I should expand on that statement. Which meant I had to read the article.

In summary: Stephan Eirik Clark (the author) wrote a literary novel he called Sweetness #9. In the article (written in March), he complained about the search engine first not finding his novel at all in the early pre-order phase, then burying it under Sweet Valley High and artificial sweetener products. (Or maybe writing the article was a clever way to boost his book—Salon will always run a “bash Amazon” article, and click-throughs and sales are always good ways to push a page up Amazon's search rankings.)

Clark goes on to quote a New Yorker article by George Packer, in which he claims that publishers can pay Amazon to push books up the search rankings. Oh, the horror!

Um, wait a minute. Actually, I’ll wait an hour or so. Go to your nearest bookstore. Check out those tables at the front. Why are those books there, and not the ones you might want to see? If you answered “the publishers paid the bookstore for favorable placement,” you get a gold star!

But hey, I’ve not paid Amazon a dime for search engine placement. And yet, if you type “Accidental Sorcerers” into Amazon’s search, guess what comes up #1? (and #2 through #5?) Someone else’s book, The Accidental Sorcerer, appears a little farther down.

One of the things that +Angela Kulig taught me, early on when I joined the co-op, is that titles matter. If you pick a generic title, your book will flounder in a sea of other books (and in the case of Amazon, other products) with similar names. Just like in poor Mr. Clark’s case. A little closer to home, I once titled a book in progress Chasing a Rainbow. Angela suggested I search that title on Goodreads. Ouch. We came up with the replacement title, The Crossover, only after much banging of heads on tables (at least on my part) late at night. There are other titles that show up in a search for that, and mine still doesn't make the first page.

So, in a nutshell, this is Search 101 for authors: pick a title that’s as unique as possible. If you have a generic-sounding title like “Sweetness,” you need a lot of sales to get your ranking pushed to the top. Or your publisher can pay the online bookstore for placement, just like they do for brick-and-mortar stores. One is a little more work, but cheaper and more effective. Or, just bash Amazon and let Salon do the rest. Doesn’t matter if you prove yourself clueless in the process, eh?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 6 comments

Writing Wibbles

The Pickups and Pestilence launch party is over, the prizes have been handed out… and White Pickups is still 99¢. I think I’ll wait for the holiday weekend to finish before resetting the price. If you’ve been sitting on the fence, you still have a few more days to get it at a discount!

I’ve finally begun the post-beta phase for Water and Chaos. The final third of the title describes the situation pretty well… maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but there’s a fair amount of work to be done. One of the beta readers went in deep, and found a lot of things that the editor would have caught… but the tighter everything is before edit time, the quicker that should get turned around!


Formatting eBooks has suddenly become a hot topic in the last week or so—it’s shown up both in a Goodreads forum I frequent, and in my Twitter feed. Strange, how all this is coming together all at once… I’m working on a “Best Practices” document for work, right after diving in and producing optimized files for Pickups and Pestilence. I thought I’d share the beginnings of some general principles for setting up eBooks here. Be warned: I do get somewhat dogmatic about this stuff. Most of you who read this blog are younger than I am, and you guys are supposed to be the generation that “gets” computers. ;-) Just sprinkle IMO, IMHO, or IMNSHO as needed.

So… what I call the First Principle of formatting eBooks, is widely known in programming circles as the Principle of Least Surprise, or the Principle of Least Astonishment. When producing eBooks, this simply means Respect the defaults. All of them. People expect to be able to set their font, type size, spacing, and so on, in their eBook readers. You need a very good reason to override that expectation—children’s books and comic books are two good examples. Fortunately, this makes your job easier, too—your CSS (styles) is shorter and easier to maintain.

This leads to the second principle: KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly!). A work of fiction isn’t a complex technical document, and I’ve formatted many of those in my day job. You have paragraphs of body text, section breaks, chapter titles. Plus a few special things you’ll do in the title page, and various highlighting in the body text. Each of these gets a “class” name. You should have a dozen or less, all told, including the classes used only on the title page. The other part of KISS is to eliminate anything that isn’t absolutely required to format your book.


More to come later. Lots of eyeball-melting details.

Thursday, May 09, 2013 11 comments

Release Day!

Launch Cannon: Fire!
Come back often over the next several days, there will be updates. The raffle is now in place!

I’m both happy and relieved to send Pickups and Pestilence on the greatest road trip of all: into your Kindles, Nooks, tablets, and computers! So, it’s time to celebrate!

First off, White Pickups is on sale for 99¢ all week. If you haven’t grabbed the book that Michael Tate said “should be heralded as the poster child for how self-publishing should be done,” grab it while it’s 66% off! If you’ve already bought it, download a fresh copy to get an edition with a new cover and a handful of typos squashed. (Updated edition may not be everywhere at this moment, but it’s coming.)

If you haven’t grabbed my anthology Oddities yet, it’s FREE on Amazon through Saturday. I think I’ve gone crazy… I’d like to see at least 100 downloads a day. So tell everyone about what book blogger Eric “Frodo” Townsend called “one entertaining story after another.” Help them download it. Whatever it takes. Hey, it’s free, right? This giveaway’s over. Thanks to all who downloaded! But it’s still only 99¢ for now. If you still want some free reading, my fantasy novella The Crossover is ready to take you far from home (and bring you back).


OK, now for the blurbage and linkage:
“Humanity decides its own fate and the means by which it comes.”

War, locusts, vermin. The world continues adjusting to the Truckalypse, and to the sudden disappearance of billions of people, seeking a new balance. People in Laurel Hills and elsewhere survive and try to rebuild what they can.

When a vision reveals the nature of the trucks, it is young Cody Sifko who must become humanity’s champion. His friends—and the enigmatic Delphinia—will stand with him, but he must face his inner demons alone.

Pickups and Pestilence takes you on a ride from suburban Atlanta, to the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell. Buckle up and hang on!

A couple places around the net where you can hear from both author and characters (and others):
And now, the part you’ve all scrolled down past the other stuff for: the prizes! ;-) Click the arrows to see what's up for grabs.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 6 comments

Indie Life/Writing Wibbles

Welcome to the Indie Life edition of Writing Wibbles. Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end, and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month.

Once again, this is a continuation of my previous Writing Wibbles post. Last week, I ranted about someone who did a (deliberately?) bad job of releasing his novel and using that as an excuse to write off the whole indie experience. Of course, I wasn’t the only blogger—especially not the highest-profile blogger—to feed the troll. Chuck Wendig also responded.

Then Salon, perhaps to balance the scales, ran an article by Hugh Howey that said self-publishing is always the better option. I might have commented strictly on that article, had it not been Indie Life week, but Wendig did already, and got rebuttals ranging from polite to “typical Internet rude.” Not the kind of guy to slink into a corner, Wendig came back with a very good point: there is no One True Way.

I have to agree.

There are, contrary to what the simple-minded insist, very few absolutes in life. There are some absolutes, to be sure, but the route to sharing your stories isn't one of them. Self-publishing was what worked best for me, which is not to say it will be best for everyone. I have a couple friends querying their books now, and I cheer them on. In my own case, I found myself with an epic-sized, post-apocalyptic, paranormal non-romance that defies attempts to pigeonhole it into a particular genre. I followed that up with two fantasy novellas, Accidental Sorcerers and The Crossover. Novellas are probably the closest thing, right now, to an absolute “indie is the best way” choice. They’re too long for magazines, and too short for book publishers; but they’re just right for people using eReaders, tablets, or phones. So my course is pretty well set… for now.

Once I digest my way through the first half of the year, I hope to turn my writing efforts to a YA contemporary fantasy trilogy that has been patiently waiting its turn. Once I finish the first book, I may try querying it (but with strict limits on query cycles or time). A handful of sales, after all, is worth far more than an endless stack of “it’s good, but not for us” rejections.

Feel free to share what brought you into the Indie Life in the comments. Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!





My latest release is Oddities: an Anthology. This is an eclectic collection of flash fiction and short stories. Some are fantasy, some science fiction, and some could go either way (but had to be pigeonholed in one section or another). Book blogger Eric Townsend described it as “one entertaining story after another.” Enjoy a quick story on that bus ride or with your morning coffee—for 99¢, you’ll still be able to afford both the fare and the coffee!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 3 comments

Writing Wibbles

Last week’s big news was that the Department of Justice went ahead with an expected suit against Apple and five of the “Big 6” publishers, alleging collusion and price-fixing of eBooks (aka the “Agency Model”). I held off writing about it until this week, mainly because I already had a post queued but also because I wanted to see if any more information came out. Oh well.

As expected, the publishing industry and their media outlets are crying Doom and Disaster. A website called Shelf Awareness, staffed by industry insiders, had this to say:

In a clash of concepts about what best serves the reader — the lowest possible prices or a healthy, diverse book industry — the federal government … came down on the side of the book as a commodity.

In other words, high eBook prices are a requirement for “a healthy, diverse book industry.” I understand the desire of a long-established oligopoly to preserve the status quo, but it’s a pity they can’t be more upfront about their motivations.

The problem is, there are laws against collusion and the DoJ provides prima facie evidence of how publisher executives “jointly acknowledged to each other the threat posed by Amazon’s pricing strategy and the need to work collectively to end that strategy.” If you can’t survive under laws that have been on the books for over 120 years, and aren’t enforced too well anyway, you’re not trying hard enough. In the end, it’s ridiculous to demand that eBooks be priced higher than hardcovers (especially when you’re explicitly forbidden to pass that eBook around the way you can a hardcover). I’ve opined before that the Agency Model was an attempt to kill eBooks; now it’s a failed attempt.

The idea that the producer dictates retail prices flies in the face of the capitalist system (that publishing executives undoubtedly support as long as it benefits them). The “S” in “MSRP” means “Suggested,” after all. Everyone in the chain, from the raw materials producers to the booksellers, tries to cover their costs plus some margin — or voluntarily takes a hit on margins (or even a loss) to gain some longer-term advantage. I doubt that even Stephen King would, for example, tell publishers that his books must sell for a certain price — so why should publishers tell Amazon what they can do?

[I should point out that, long-term, I’m not convinced that Amazon’s intentions are all wonderful for authors or readers. On the other hand, given what Barnes&Noble and Borders did to indie booksellers, I don’t weep much for their predicament now either.]

I think there’s still a role for Big Publishing, but they’ll have to update the way they do business. In my opinion, they could start by treating authors as partners rather than chattel. The average advance is the same as it was 30 years ago — i.e., much less when factoring in inflation — while book prices (and executive compensation) have increased accordingly. The games publishers play with sales figures are well-documented, and it’s funny how those “mistakes” never benefit the authors. Those kind of issues need to be addressed, instead of clinging to a business model that’s incompatible with new technology. In the Depression years and afterwards, it was possible for many authors to make a living from writing, even by writing short stories for the pulps. Top-shelf novelists were the rock stars of their day. By shooting for the lowest common denominator, the publishers have brought this new world of Amazon on themselves. IMO.

Under the current circumstances, going indie seems to be the smart move. A friend of mine cleared twice her dayjob pay in March, and circumstances are now pushing her into writing full-time. She’s a talented cover designer, and her books aren’t full of typos, so that helps. Not everyone gets that kind of success, but I think people who put a lot of effort into their work have a better chance of success by bypassing the publishers. When publishers acknowledge that they’re no longer the 800-pound gorilla, and start acting like they know it, the pendulum will begin swinging their way again.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

Hey look, a new follower slipped in at the last minute: Sonya Clark. A couple weeks ago, I got a peek at the first part of her novel in progress, Freak Town. It’s going to be a winner.

Early this week, Tony Noland blogged about his fond memories of OS/2, a highly advanced operating system for its time to be sure. It got me thinking about my own fond memories, of Amiga and the old Tandy laptops, and some of the writing I did on those older systems… much of it now forever lost.

My first instinct was to lament the obsolence of file formats, but that’s not really the problem — most of the files from those days were plain text with a minimum of formatting. Even with a binary file format, it’s not that difficult to recover the text out of a file if it’s not compressed. On OSX, you could drop into the Terminal and use the strings command to clean out the crud; then fix the rest in your favorite editor.

No, the real problem is media. CP/M had a format, Commodore, Tandy, Atari, and some I’ve forgotten each had their own format, incompatible with the others (but in all cases, susceptible to bit-rot). Even in the case of the Tandy 600 laptop, whose 3-1/2" floppies can be read in MS-DOS, who has a floppy drive these days? CD-ROM isn’t exactly permanent either, even assuming the physical format hangs around. With the proliferation of tablets, and pocket computers that happen to make phone calls (I’m typing this on my iPhone), that’s not a given. In a lot of ways, it’s more likely that stories typewritten 30 years ago are more likely to survive than something typed into a personal computer 20 years ago.

So, as writers, what can we do to make our deathless prose really deathless?

The technical answer: nothing, really. The farther back you go in time, the fewer works survive. The vast majority of books in a bookstore are no more than a few years old, with some very popular exceptions. Project Gutenberg has done a wonderful job of locating and digitizing works that have passed into the public domain, but the vast majority of their titles are from the 19th and 20th centuries. Go farther back, and you’re in the realm of the “classics” — exemplary works that survive on merit — but the oldest complete works are around 2500 years old. At around 3800 years of age, the Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest known written works of all, and is only fragmentary.

Perhaps the best we can do is plan for decades, maybe a century or two, and hope that our descendants find our work worth distributing forward from there. We have the Internet for decades, and paper (preferably acid-free) for centuries. As long as eBook stores carry our work, we’re good for the short-term. I don’t worry too much about a new eBook format superseding the current ones — both MOBI and ePub are ZIP archives containing HTML files (with some control files that determine the order, among other things). HTML has been around since 1991, and any browser can display an HTML file written even 20 years ago. Even if HTML is superseded later on, the files are plain text with well-defined markup elements.

While copyright laws allow for longer and longer periods before a work finally passes into the public domain, there’s nothing stopping a copyright owner from abandoning copyright earlier — or releasing the work under a Creative Commons license — and then placing the work on Gutenberg or archive.org, which are intended for the long-haul. If longevity is the goal, copyright may be the enemy.

That’s decades…what about centuries? Our civilization could crash, or our grandkids could just decide the Internet uses too much electricity to maintain and pull the plug. Say what you might about buggy whips, paper and similar media has survived civilization reboots. Keep it away from fire, use acid-free paper so it won’t eat itself, and maybe that story will catch on with future generations. Maybe not likely, but certainly possible.

Which brings me to my own deathless prose. :-P I’m still editing White Pickups, and I’m about halfway through. Not as far as I liked, but at least as good as I hoped. I’m afraid this bad boy is going to break 100,000 words by the time I crack open the Crown Royal (which is waiting for Launch Day) though.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

Some medium-sized news this week — but first, let’s greet the new followers!
  • LynnCee Faulk — a fellow #FridayFlash’er and fellow Planet Georgia resident
  • Quinn Smythwood — “author by night” (careful, it’s the ones who don’t claim to be “mighty” you have to watch out for)
Your visitor badges, padded vests, and shock sticks are right here. The inmates may bite if you show fear, but will back off from a show of force.


Click to go to the
Amazon page
Okay, medium-sized news. After getting John Xero to look over the fixes I made one last time, on Sunday evening I decided to load Xenocide into the Launch Cannon and fire. I did do one last typo scan beforehand, which proved fruitful — reading a story backwards definitely breaks up the flow and can expose ugglies that your subconscious has managed to sweep under the rug, but does cause some eyestrain. As much as I hate typos, it was worth it.

I had several goals in mind with this launch: 1) See what it takes to get a book (even a short story) into the Kindle Store; 2) Ditto with Smashwords; 3) Find out how much effort it takes to get into Kindle Singles and Smashwords Premium; 4) Get into the Goodreads Author Program.

Note that the word “sales” didn’t appear above. This is really a practice run for when I load White Pickups into the Launch Cannon, like launching a chimp into space before launching people. Still, I do cherish the two people who actually laid down their dollar to buy it in the Kindle Store (and appreciate the three people who have previewed it at Smashwords even if they passed on buying it) as I write this on Tuesday evening. In that regard, the Xenocide launch has been a roaring success so far!

Using Scrivener for writing makes it almost trivially easy to hit the Kindle Store with the Launch Cannon, since it can “compile” a MOBI file (using Amazon’s KindleGen utility). If you’re not afraid of the command line, you could use Sigil to write your book, format to ePUB, then use KindleGen to convert that to MOBI — nearly as easy as Scrivener. The amusing part of launching into the Kindle Store was that Amazon UK had Xenocide up before the US store did! That may have had as much to do with timezones as anything else.

Putting on my publisher hat for a moment: frankly, the Smashwords setup leaves some things to be desired. The “Meatgrinder” is an impressive piece of software, taking an MS Weird file and turning it into pretty much every kind of eBook format in use, but XHTML would have (IMHO) been a better choice for an input file format. (Yes, I’m going to get technical here. Feel free to glaze over, or skip the rest of this paragraph.) Their FAQ says they used to accept HTML, but gave up on it because of the horrid non-compliant HTML they would get. But they can reject bad Weird documents, why not bad HTML? Or better yet, pass it through HTML Tidy for an automated cleanup? Or, they could take a clean ePUB (which is a collection of HTML files plus some sequencing info inside a Zip archive) and break that apart to create the other formats. XHTML (which is HTML that conforms to “well-formed” XML definitions) is very easy to parse and transform, and would eliminate the perceived need for a program I’ve learned to not trust with anything important. I ended up exporting RTF from Scrivener, reading that into OpenOffice, then (after cleaning up formats to conform to the Smashwords style guide) saved that to DOC and sent it on. [end tech stuff]

Now if all this translated to twice as many sales as the Kindle Store, it would be well worth the effort. However, early returns suggest it’s the opposite: you can expect more Kindle Store sales for less effort than getting into Smashwords. Still, Smashwords is probably worth the effort in the long run since (if you go for Premium status) it gets you into the B&N, Apple, Kobo, and Sony stores. They also issue your eBook a free ISBN number for inclusion in the Apple and Sony stores. You never know, Amazon might stumble and let one of the competitors become King of the eBook Hill.


I got the first draft of my #FridayFlash done today. It wasn’t difficult, as the story idea has been kicking around in my head since September 29 or so. I’ll explain Friday. Until then…

Tuesday, June 01, 2010 6 comments

Self-Published Publicity (NSFW?)

… or “Boobs, Books, and Buzz.” Or "Marketing 101 in the Internet Age.”


Have you heard the names “Hayley Williams” and “Paramore”? Until Saturday, I hadn’t, although Daughter Dearest insists that I’ve heard some of their music on the radio. Anyway, this self-snapped shot (look at the angle of her left arm) appeared in her TwitPic stream on Thursday night — OK, I’ve slightly doctored it to keep this post PG-rated:

Hayley Williams topless pic (censored)

The pic was pulled down, but not soon enough for it to get copied (obviously, see above) and the old Whoops, I got hacked excuse popped up in her tweetstream. 'Course, some folks checked the pic’s EXIF data and found the shot was snapped about eight minutes before it got posted… making the possibility of a hack, shall we say, extremely remote. A much more believable explanation would have been “it was supposed to be for my boyfriend and I messed up when I emailed it.”

For those of you who have to see the original, I found out about the whole kerfuffle in an [!!!!!NSFW!!!!!] article from TheRegister [!!!!!NSFW!!!!!]; it includes the picture in all its nude-tastic glory as I type (and ElReg tends to give the meaty middle finger to take-down notices).

So… this all happens on Thursday. I read about it on Saturday. And by Monday, I’m off to Amazon’s MP3 store to check out Paramore’s music selection… which turns out to be pleasant to listen to as well. There has been a ton of press about it, and “Hayley Williams” is a trending topic on Twitter at the moment — you just can’t buy publicity that good. Hey, if I thought I’d get a huge traffic bump by posting (and taking down) a nudie of myself, I’d go for it too… but my bits just aren’t as interesting to look at. IMHO.

Clothing choices aside, I like her face better in the above shot than the one in a more “turned-out” publicity pic (in which she looks like a Jennifer Aniston clone, not that I think Jen is unpleasant looking). Hayley, lose the makeup and the hair stylist, you look better and more like yourself without them.


Now that I’ve got your attention…

Last week, I mentioned, among other things, J.A. Konrath being the subject of a Publisher’s Weekly hit-piece and his response. This week, he embarks on a fascinating experiment he calls Steal This eBook: he makes available a zip file containing Jack Daniels Stories (one of his own books) in various ebook formats (and a direct link if the first one doesn’t work). The really audacious part is where he asks people to share the file far and wide via the usual “piracy” channels.

Konrath sums up his experiment thus: “I've said repeatedly that there is no proof piracy hurts sales. So I'm manning up and putting my money where my mouth is.” Indeed. This experiment has just sailed, so it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out. But I can already say, Konrath has put one of his books in my reading pile where there were none before. I’ve never been one to shy away from making predictions, so I’ll throw one out here: I think he’ll see a negligible effect on sales for this particular book, and a noticeable uptick in sales of his other books.

Of course, it can be debated (and is being debated in the comments on Konrath’s blog) whether this is actually “piracy” or not — after all, the author himself is encouraging spreading the file far and wide. Perhaps this should be better considered a “loss leader,” an old sales tactic where a store sells one product at a loss in hopes that people will buy other (more profitably marked-up) stuff while they’re grabbing the Great Deal. But successful buzz generation means you have to get people to notice what you’re saying — and is “A free ebook” or “Hey, pirate my ebook!” going to get more notice? Or, in the case of Hayley Williams, did “hey, music” or “BOOBZIEZ!!!!” turn more heads? (Big hint: of the thousands of bands out there, who’s getting the attention right now?)

Publicity is not for the faint of heart, and DIY publicity doubly so. I think there are some lessons to be learned here, though, to make things a little less scary…

1) You can only do this thing once. Williams’s stunt definitely lands in the category of “tough act to follow.” Konrath took a more modest approach, but even if he offers another freebie later on, a lot of people will go “yeah, yeah.”

2) Know what results you’re looking for. I’m guessing that both Konrath and Williams did, and got them.

3) Seize the opportunity when something goes wrong. Sometimes, you might get free publicity in a way you neither expected nor particularly wanted. Once the genie is out of the bottle, no amount of whining nor DMCA take-down notices will get it back in… and you’ll just end up looking clueless and petty. Make it work for you instead. Get out in front of the story so you’ll have at least some control — and for your own sake, don’t come up with a lame explanation that can be easily debunked (e.g. “I got hacked”). On the other hand, if you can extend the controversy (which is an unpleasant way of saying “extend the free publicity”) with a silly comment, it might be worth it.

Consider the sad case of Stephanie Meyer throwing a hissy-fit when an early draft of Midnight Sun* got leaked onto the net — she decided that she’d “been violated” and walked away from the work. To her credit, she soon acquired a partial clue and posted a copy herself (although with the usual “Any retranscription or reproduction is illegal” stuff), but still has no plans to finish it. She would have been far better off, publicity-wise, had she said something like “I’ve been rewriting this and what hits the shelves will be different and far better, it’ll be out on [some date]. Hang in there.”

*Thanks go to Daughter Dearest, a Stephanie Meyer fan, for supplying both the book title and the author name when my memory couldn’t produce either one.


Cheap electronics and public networks have changed creative media forever. It was once said, “freedom of the press applies only to those who can afford a printing press.” Now the electronic equivalent can be purchased for a few hundred bucks new, or sometimes fished out of a dumpster for free. Of course, the old “talent” issue still applies — Sturgeon’s Law says “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” and many would say Sturgeon was an optimist — and so publishers and the recording/movie industry can claim to be a filter for that ninety percent. Still, people like J.A. Konrath are making a comfortable living without having the mass-market appeal that the gatekeepers/filters demand, simply by using the tools available today and finding a way to get noticed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 2 comments

The New Publishing

My blog-buddy Beth has gotten the idea of putting more of her writing on her blog. I think that’s a great idea, but of course I would! She’s posted excerpts from some of her writing in the past, and I for one thought it was pretty good. In last night’s post, she brings some good insights to the difficulties writers (as performance artists) face:

…it isn't as though we can sit on a street corner and read our work. Kind of loses something if a person walks by and just hears a couple of sentences. Can't sell unpublished books at art shows or craft fairs. I guess we could convince a coffee shop to let us read our work, but unless you're a poet, that's a hard sell.


A lot of local or regional art shows include a writing segment or competition, but it can be difficult to put the entries on display. I think the Grand Rapids (MI) art festival has the closest thing to the right idea, putting the best entries in the Press. But unless it’s flash fiction (less than 1000 words), it’s not likely that you’ll see many people reading a story at a kiosk the way they’ll view paintings or photos in a gallery — or sit in a dark room to watch a short or long video. I suppose the closest thing to a display case for writing is a literary magazine… many of which have a readership in the low hundreds (my high-end estimate for this blog, so I’m not sneering except to say I don’t need a budget to do this).

But, as Beth points out, blogs can provide a place for writers to perform. Sure, it’s not a place where you can get immediate feedback like a musician gets in a venue (as Beth says: no one's going to stand up and cheer and clap after they read this, and chant, "Five more posts!"), but I’ve had plenty of feedback and encouragement on both FAR Future and the new White Pickups story in comments and email. Indeed, I got an email yesterday to correct a typo in FAR Future #45 (hi Alan!). You can also find a few short/flash stories down-blog, although I daresay they’ve been buried under the weight of 104 FAR Future episodes — I should probably re-tag them.

I’m certainly not the only person putting works of various lengths on a blog, and I’ve even plugged a couple of them in the past. Some of ones I keep up with include:

Carnacki — among the general news of the horror genre, and his own life, you’ll find vampire novellas and novels featuring the vampire Lucy Westenra and a band of humans fighting both Nazis and more supernatural forms of evil.

Apocalypse Blog — an alternative world, in which World War Three has come and gone and left a remnant struggling to survive in the ruins. The narrator tells the story as it happens in her world.

Dorlana Vann — a published novelist and short-story writer who still thinks the blogosphere is good enough to see some of her work.

Star’s Reach — by John Michael Greer, aka the Archdruid. This is a less-optimistic peak-oil novel than FAR Future, set several hundred years in the future.

Several authors have released their novels as audiobooks — or podcasted them, if you prefer. Scott Sigler is one of the best-known, but there are plenty of others. Thanks to sites like ourmedia.org, it’s not difficult to store an audiobook then release it through iTunes.

The web is a great leveler for the arts — it presents text, audio, graphics, and video with (almost) equal aplomb. I’m sure there were people posting fiction to Usenet back when the 'net was pretty much all text, but I don't remember seeing any. Each format has its strengths and limitations when brought to the web, and each requires modifications to work with the limitations of online publishing:
  • You can read serialized novels on a dialup, but anything much over 1000 words gets pretty long on a computer screen. Novels work best when written in 800–1500 word segments.

  • Photos have to be downscaled to load reasonably quickly and be viewed on a typical monitor.

  • Audio and video can take a long time to download unless they're compressed heavily enough to impact quality. Thanks to MP3 and more modern encodings like AAC, music might require the least amount of modification compared to more traditional publishing. Video, of course, is a tradeoff between length, quality, and download time.


You can even have a tip jar; I've thought of two kinds. One is the straight PayPal thing (which The Homeless Guy does); another is to turn on ads and encourage people to click the ads if they like the story or fragment. I suspect the latter would provide a more steady trickle of coinage… people are often happier to spend other people's money than their own. :-)

Those of us who write (or create other forms of art) for the love of it have the ability to reach a much wider audience than ever before. It’s up to us to make the most of it.

Monday, October 08, 2007 8 comments

Moving the Tollbooth

Just in case you haven’t heard yet, the British band Radiohead is taking online pre-orders for their new album. That’s nothing out of the ordinary, except that they are letting the purchasers determine the price they pay — from 46 pence (45 of which is a credit card transaction fee) on up. Daring? Maybe.

Radiohead parted ways with their record label (EMI) when their contract ran out in 2003, which gives them the freedom to market their new music online without RIAA interference (or the UK equivalent, whose name escapes me at the moment). Considering that a recording artist’s cut of a retail CD sale is maybe 10%, and assuming a new-release CD goes for $18 (which is typical in the US, not so sure about the UK), then you’d guess that an average sale price of $1.80 average will net them what they would have gotten in royalties. Actually, we should account for recording expenses and hosting/bandwidth fees as well — but they're getting free promotion from everyone (including me) and I’m pretty sure that a $5 average sale price is going to put them ahead of the curve.

Yesterday, The Register interviewed Gerd Leonhard, a media consultant who is putting up his newest book, The End of Control, as a set of PDFs. According the the El Reg article, he writes lovely sentiments on his blog like “Another 12 months for this Radiohead experiment to become the default approach” and “move the tollbooth further down.” To be sure, the labels that comprise the RIAA membership are trapped in an old business model that worked well (for the executives, at least) for a long time — they will not be able to adapt quickly, and it’s just as likely that they will drive away their last retail customers with “piracy” lawsuits. Naturally, they will blame everything and everyone but themselves as they sink into the pool of irrelevance where the buggy-whip manufacturers of the early 20th century are likely waiting to receive the first industrial casualty of the 21st.

The recording industry is quick to remind us that they provide valuable services: production, promotion, distribution — and indirectly, with top-shelf acts (like Radiohead) subsidizing the up-and-comers. But when production is a matter of copying files to a server, and distribution is iTunes or eMusic (or services that wish they were iTunes or eMusic), what’s left? Promotion? When is the last time you heard or saw an ad for a new CD coming out? (Actually, I suspect that promotion these days amounts to paying Clear Channel and other giants to play selected tracks on the air, a practice known as “payola” and once frowned upon.) But I’m sure I’m not the only person who rarely listens to commercial radio nowadays. The last CD we bought was an act Daughter Dearest heard on MySpace. The next two CDs I buy will be from groups I’ve heard on streaming stations.

Leonhard says, “The real money is not in the CDs. It's in the gigs, the merchandising, the sponsorships. To make that money, you have to let people further down the highway before they arrive at the tollbooth.” But how do you get the people to the tollbooth? Thus, I still see a role for traditional music publishers: as incubators for new acts. Not nearly as lucrative as it used to be, partly because promotion is all they really have left to offer and they’ll have to actually do some of that promotion — including getting tracks into the hands of streaming stations and giving away some free samples.

Aspiring writers, unfortunately, only enjoy part of the potential that the Internet brings to aspiring musicians. Non-fiction writers, like Leonhard (or my day job, for that matter) can self-publish non-fiction to promote consulting or similar businesses… the book becomes a loss leader, much like a free music track, in the hopes that people will like what they read and pay for related services. But fiction writers, especially novelists, have it more difficult: as I’ve said before, people won’t abandon paperbacks until e-book readers with hi-res screens sell for $10 in the grocery checkout line. In the meantime, it’s a lot harder to print and bind a book than it is to burn a CD — and writers don’t have 10,000 people lining up to buy tickets to a reading.

But the Internet does, however, open up possibilities for new kinds of fiction. I humbly submit that FAR Future is one example: by the time I finished the story, and it wound its way through the publishing system and onto the shelves, it would be perhaps two or three years to 2012 instead of five, the writing would be on the wall, and the parts I guess wrong would make the whole story less believable.

But here’s the bottom line: can authors make a living publishing fiction online? and if so, how? I have an idea along those lines — but like Radiohead and their new album, it would likely work best with an established fan base.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 2 comments

On Creativity

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” — Genesis 1:26a

Does God look like us? Do we really look like Him? Or does “in our image, after our likeness” mean something different? After all, if God has a head, two arms, two legs, and a torso… well, so do the apes. Some other animals use their front paws as hands from time to time (raccoons, squirrels, etc.). Chimps and even some birds use tools to get food. What really separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom?

It’s not language: bees communicate through dance, chimps through gestures, dogs through body language and scent, not to mention whales and dolphins. But that answer is “getting warmer.”

Maybe it’s more a matter of how we use language. It isn’t just a tool for getting food, or bonding, or marking territory. We do all those things with language, but we also use it to create stories about where we came from, or why we are here, or simply to entertain ourselves and (if we’re lucky) other people. In other words, after God created the universe, the earth, and the ecosystem in it, He populated it with a species that could, in a small way, create worlds of their own! Our creativity isn’t divine in its own right — but it’s an echo of the divine. Call it part-divine.

This I’ve realized for a while now, more came to light as I read Stephen King’s On Writing, specifically when he talked about many writers having a drinking problem, and himself being baked on coke and booze while writing Cujo, to the point that he didn’t remember writing it. That’s when I got the rest of it: I’d always thought that getting a little squiffed was good for the creative part of me… confirmed, so I thought, by how much easier it was to write after a few drinks (or in the middle of a fever, for that matter). It came to me in a flash: the creative part of us is partly divine and thus isn’t affected — either way — by earthly things like self-medication or even sickness. Alcohol and drugs just muzzle that anti-divine part of our minds, that inner nagging spouse or domineering parent, the part that picks at everything, is never satisfied with what we do, and would rather have major surgery without anesthesia than to say “well done.”

And here I’ve done the worst thing to that part of me that can be done: I’ve vivisected the little SOB and laid its pathetic guts out on the stainless steel lab table for everyone to see. Feel free to laugh at it and ridicule it as it squirms under your amused gaze….

Amazingly enough, I’m completely sober tonight. Must be a leftover from yesterday’s virus.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 2 comments

The Rise of the Creator-Consumer, Part IV

Continued from Part III
(start at Part I)

IV. The Passives (reprise)


“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you ever think things would be… I don’t know… different?”

She looks up from her book, slightly concerned. “Different how?” she asks guardedly.

“I don’t know,” he sighs, silencing the voice of his god with the Mute button. “I mean, we have all this shit, or at least we’re making payments on it. But we sit here most evenings, we don’t really have a clue about what our kids are doing… and did you have any dreams when you were younger?”

Her mouth tightens involuntarily for a moment, caught between annoyance and amusement. It’s finally happened, she thought, he’s having his mid-life crisis. Aloud, she says, “Sure. Didn’t you?” Let him talk it out.

“Yeah,” he laughs nervously. “Kyle kind of reminded me. When I was his age, I wanted a Super-8 movie camera. I was going to interview a ghost in a haunted house… make my own movie, like Kyle and his friends. But I couldn’t afford it, and neither could my parents.

“What about you?”

Trapped! he had opened up, now it’s her turn. “Well…” she waves her book. “I wanted to be a reporter, an investigative reporter. I guess I’d have been a cross between Lois Lane and Woodward and Bernstein. But we couldn’t afford J-school —”

“J-school?”

“Journalism school. I got a scholarship for Annenberg, in California, but it wasn’t enough. I went to vo-tech, and it was good, but… well, I started a mystery novel about an investigative reporter, but never finished it. It probably wouldn’t have gotten published anyway.”

“Hey, you never know. You can prob’ly write better stuff than that,” he gestures dismissively at her paperback.

“This book won an award,” she sniffs. “I didn’t even try to get mine published.”

“Do you still have it?”

“I don’t know. And I’m not sure why we’re even having this conversation.”

He laughs. “You say we don’t talk enough all the time; now we’re talking and you don’t know why.”

She opens her mouth to retort, then stops. “So what brought this on?”

“I guess it was Kyle and his movie-making buddies. He’s supposed to be home in a little bit. Hey, what do you say we walk down to the Thurmans’ and see what they’re up to? That’s where he is.”

She looks at him for a moment. “You know, I don’t remember the last time we went out for a walk. It might be nice.”

To be continued…

Friday, August 11, 2006 No comments

The Rise of the Creator-Consumer, Part III

Continued from Part II
(start at Part I)

“If he tries to bring it in the bathroom while I’m taking a shower,” his wife growls, “I’ll kill him and break that camera.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” he reassures her. “They’re making some sci-fi flick, I think.”

She sighs. “At least it gets him out of the house. Mary’s up in her room, just like every night. Who knows what she’s doing on that laptop…”

III. The Author


“So will we live happily ever after, Merlynn?” Katera laughed.

The sorceress shrugged, something Katera had never seen Merlynn do before. “That’s a question no wizard can answer,” she laughed in turn, “but you can. You can choose to be happy or not. There are those who have little more than their lives, who praise the gods for each day of life; and some who have conquered entire kingdoms and are yet miserable…”

Mary pauses partly to think, partly to savor the moment. It has taken her a year to get to this point: with two more sentences, she will have finished her novel. A few clicks will send this final part to her blog. But with satisfaction comes reluctance. She is happy and even relieved to be done, and it’s definitely time for a break. But it also seems so — final — to end it. Many readers assured her they felt the same way; they didn’t want it to end, or they hoped she would start a sequel soon.

Putting the laptop aside, she unfolds her legs and stretches across the bed. She has never been one of the popular girls at school — and after listening and watching them, she is glad. Their world was clothes, makeup, and their figures… and what kind of life was that? The boys don’t buzz around her like bees around a rose, but she had created a world in the last year, and if boys didn’t flock to her, all sorts of people had flocked to her story. All the posts telling her they would buy the book if she found a publisher were flattering, but what were the odds? Probably worse than her getting a date for the prom, and she isn’t exactly counting on that either.

She winces for a moment, thinking about how the early parts of her novel really stink compared to the latest — her writing has improved, and she vows to go back and fix up those beginning parts. Some of the readers had caught the odd inconsistency, and she had saved those messages too. “Done” is a relative term, I guess, she thinks, and sits back up to finish her opus.

Continued in Part IV

Monday, July 31, 2006 No comments

The Rise of the Creator-Consumer, Part II

Continued from Part I

II. The Producer


The phone rings. Husband and wife look at each other for a moment, and he says, “I’ve got it, I’m closer.” There’s nothing on anyway, he thinks — perhaps as close as it gets to “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” for him.

“Hi Dad!” came the voice of his son over the line, more cheerful than usual as of late. “I’m over at Jim’s, just wanted to let you guys know.”

“OK,” he says. “Doing anything interesting?”

His son laughs. “Just making a movie. Jim got a camcorder for his birthday. Do you think I could get one for my birthday too?”

“Um…” A memory stops him. Through the eyes of a younger self, waiting for his mom to pick up her pictures at the local camera shop, he stares wistfully at the Super-8 movie camera on the shelf behind the counter. He remembers a dream, boldly walking into the old abandoned house down the street, camera rolling, ready to interview a ghost. He would have been famous — but that camera was as out of reach financially as it was physically. That movie maker was gone, but…

“I’ll talk to your mother about it,” he says at last. “But your birthday’s in February — we’ll see how your grades look once school starts up.”

“I’ll get straight As if that’s what it takes!”

“I’ll hold you to that. Say hi to Paul for me, and be home by ten.”

“Ten… yeah. That’s enough time. Thanks, Dad! Bye!”

***


“You can stay ’til ten, Kyle?” asked Jim, as Kyle hung up the phone.

“Yeah, and I might get a camcorder for my birthday, if my grades are good.”

“That’s… seven months from now,” Tony said, counting on his fingers. “Maybe you could get it for Christmas, that would be better.”

“We’ll talk about it later,” Kyle said. “Let’s get these last two scenes done — we’ve only got two hours to wrap this up.”

“It’s not like we’re on a schedule or anything,” Tony laughed. “We can finish up tomorrow if we have to. It’s more important that we do it right.”

“You haven’t seen the comments page, have you?” Jim retorted. “There’s at least fifty of ’em, everyone’s all, ‘Hey, when’s Episode III coming out?’ We can’t leave ’em hanging.”

“OK,” Kyle picked up Tony’s script. “We still haven’t figured out how to wake up the crew — or why we’re awake to begin with. We’re all getting up from the table when the red light starts flashing — Tony, is the foot switch where you can hit it? Good, turn it off. We’re going to dub in the buzzer, right? Then we have do the bridge scene, where we see the asteroids.”

“And that’s the end of Episode III,” Tony grinned. “It’ll give us a month to figure out how we’re going to get out of it in Episode IV.”

“Let’s do it,” said Jim, turning on his dad’s halogen work lights and starting the camera. “Places, everyone,” as he grabbed a chair in front of the solid blue wall.

Continued in Part III

Sunday, July 30, 2006 No comments

The Rise of the Creator-Consumer, Part I

This is a true story. That’s not to say I saw it happen, but I have seen its light shining from sites like Blogger, MySpace, and YouTube; its shadows cast across the living rooms of American households. It’s my story, and yours too... if you let it be.

I. The Passives


Another near-silent family supper is over. “Family” supper, although the four of them sat together for maybe two minutes with all the late arrivals and early leavings. Being (as he thinks) an enlightened kind of guy, he carries his dishes to the sink before entering the sanctuary of his living room. He bows to the altar of his lounge chair, picking up the remote before dropping himself onto the altar, presenting himself a living sacrifice of another evening to his one-eyed god. His god asks little of him but attention, and usually fills his empty evenings with empty entertainment in return.

But there’s no ball game on tonight, and nothing else strikes him as particularly interesting as his slack-jawed, belly-scratching worship carries him from channel to channel. He looks up as his wife comes in from the kitchen, having loaded the dishwasher and left the pots to soak in the sink. She looks past him as she settles into her own chair, picking up the romance novel from the lampstand.

He watches her for a while, pretending to watch the TV. She turns a page, then another; her expressionless face could be mistaken for a mask of anger.

That’s not the best she’s ever looked, he thinks; an echo suggests he has little to talk about. Sighing, he points to his god once again and communes. Persistence may be rewarded.

Continued in Part II

Friday, March 03, 2006 1 comment

The creator-consumer dilemma: preservation

O’Reilly’s MacDevCenter blog recently ran a short article about the concerns over long-term preservation of today’s digital media.

It’s an interesting problem. In the olden days, before 1980 or so, the vast majority of “home” media came from a film camera. People typed (on a typewriter) or hand-wrote letters and stories and kept their paper copies in a desk drawer. A few years later, VHS camcorders started making inroads, but almost nobody edited their tapes — partly because it would require three decks, and partly because it would degrade the already mediocre video quality. Here in the 21st Century, we have digital media coming out of our ears (actually going in our ears... think iPod) but I’m still waiting for the tours to Saturn.

But we face a very real issue of impermanence. A while back, I mentioned finding several short stories I wrote in college; some were typed (on an old “portable” Smith-Corona manual typewriter) and some were hand-written. I also have one and a half novels I wrote back then (longhand). All of them were on paper, and had survived over 20 years of storage. Whatever I wrote on a Commodore 64 in the mid-80s didn’t fare so well. Printed digital photos tend to fade over time, and exposure to sunlight hastens their demise — compare that to black&white film photos that have survived 100 years. Videotape can last several decades if stored properly, but dropouts accumulate over time and make the video that much harder to recover. That haircut video I burned to DVD, or those copies of stories and photos burned to CD, are good for a couple of decades if stored properly. On the other hand, check out what can happen to a CD that gets kicked around in a car for a little while:

Those spots are in the CD, not on it. You can’t polish that out. If you want your disks to last, keep them in a cool, dry, dark place.

There are a couple of bright spots: first, there’s just so dang much digital media being cranked out, by you and me and everyone else, that some of it is bound to make it to our grandchildren. Next, if you can solve the “bit-rot” problem (that’s a technical term), future generations could have access to perfect copies of our narratives — no faded photos, no text obscured by stains or yellowing, video as good (or bad) as the day it was taken.

Digital media is much easier to back up; for example, there are plenty of services dedicated to sharing digital photos — and those photos you share are also stored on a disk that isn’t in your house. There are analogous services for video and even text (you’re looking at one of the latter right now), and I even have a little program that lets me use my Gmail account to stash files in one of its folders (yes, my stories are backed up!). Someone truly fanatical about saving their text or photos could print them (even in black&white) on acid-free paper and have (physically) distant relatives keep a copy — if you lose your originals, you could at least OCR the text and scan the photos.

Backing up is easy, but most people don’t do it (or in my case, don’t do it as thoroughly as I should). If you need motivation, try this: you’re one hard drive crash away from losing all of your pictures, video, music, and writings.

Sunday, January 22, 2006 No comments

Camera shakeout

Seems that the photography industry has started quietly shaking out: Konica/Minolta is throwing in the towel and Nikon is dumping most of its film cameras to concentrate on digital — quite a turnaround in attitude at the iconic manufacturer.

Film is going to be around for quite a while — unless you have massive thousands of bucks, digital is going to lag film’s quality for some years to come. On the casual/consumer end, a lot of people still have good film cameras and aren’t ready to drop $350–$400 for a decent digital just yet. But for those of us who have them already, the quality is fine for snapshots and 5x7 prints (if you don’t look too close). The best part is that we can blow through the equivalent of four rolls of film in a day, keep the good shots, and make the bad stuff disappear with no guilt, extra cost, or waits for processing. It’s also nice to not have to keep a scanner around when I want to put my pictures on my blog.

One of the neat things about digital cameras is that many of them have a video mode, so you can take at least short clips of video. My camera takes video at 320x240, roughly equivalent to VHS quality, and can manage up to 3 minutes at a time (which about fills a 128MB card anyway). iMovie, to my pleasant surprise, converts and upsizes its AVI files so I can edit them and even mix them with DV video from my camcorder. Some digital cameras can take full-screen 640x480 video, which would require the biggest flash cards you can afford since it would require about 4 times the space of 320x240 video.

But that’s where things will head, eventually. Flash memory will continue to get cheaper (I’m thinking about a 512MB card for my camera), processors will continue to improve, and I expect solid-state camcorders to start pushing into DV territory in the next few years.

Friday, November 04, 2005 No comments

Creator-consumers: guess who’s leading the way?

Auntie Beeb is a couple of days behind Tales from FAR Manor, but gets it right: the creative engine is shifting from Hollywood to the Internet.

But here’s the surprise: “Girls were more likely to [share their work] than boys - 38% compared with 29%.”

Yeah, that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s the first indication I’ve seen that the whole “girls aren’t interested in technology” meme is beginning to fade. If you want to see the future of creative media, let your daughters lead the way.

Thursday, October 27, 2005 3 comments

Sounds crazy

So crazy, in fact, I want to do it. But not this year.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the writers’ version of motorcycling’s Iron Butt Rally. It’s a simple contest: during the month of November, write a short (50,000 word) novel. But like haiku, there’s deep water beneath that simple surface.

Both NaNoWriMo and Iron Butt are endurance tests, of both operator and machine. Both require the participant to forego luxuries like sleep, regular meals, entertainment, and family. NaNoWriMo throws in another little monkey wrench, the minor detail of a major holiday (Thanksgiving, at least in the US) — toward the end of the month, when contestants will be pushing hard to wrap up, no less. Not to mention the 8.33% of us who happen to have a birthday in November.

To give you an idea of what 50,000 words is like, look through the October archive for Tales from FAR Manor. Read it all. Then multiply by 4. And I only thought I’d been writing like crazy this month. To really have a shot at completing NaNoWriMo, I would probably have to use up most of my vacation time (by taking November off, which ain’t gonna happen due to deadlines) kick the renters out of the old place in the woods, and move in there for the month.

Monday, October 24, 2005 1 comment

Publishing moves on

On Saturday, I wrote about publishers suing Google over the proposed Google Print service. Like the music and movie industries, book publishers also consider the new technology as a threat instead of an opportunity. Call it hidebound management or corporate culture, call it a failure of imagination by the very companies that survive on selling imagination. Either way, analog media companies are faced with wrenching change — and they can’t do anything but react, badly.

Once upon a time, the dream was to write the Great American Novel. The Hemingways and Steinbecks of a previous generation were the rock stars of their time. Video may have killed the radio star, but the novelist was wounded in a collateral damage incident and now the video star is sick in bed as well. Like any large industry in decline, book publishers (and to a lesser extent, music & video) turned first to wringing more out of the formula that worked so well in the past. When that didn’t work, instead of looking for new ways to do what they do best, they cast blame hither and yon, and fell even farther back onto formula.

it’s a truism that “nobody wants to read anymore,” and I’ve often said it myself — but blogs give the lie to that factoid. It’s not that people don’t want to read, they just don’t want to read the goop on bookstore shelves. There are exceptions, to be sure; I mentioned Neil Gaiman in an earlier posting, but without much promotion (that I’ve noticed, anyway) beyond a new Stephen King release or one of the Left Behind series from a while back, how do you find good new stuff?

Well, your host has never shied away from stating an opinion. Since Hallowe’en is just around the corner, I’ll offer up a couple of horror novels on other blogs.

First, my friend and bob-brother Carnacki’s novel, The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire. Its style is a series of diary entries, which naturally works well when published on a blog. It takes a different angle on the traditional vampire story by casting vampires — or rather, a particular vampire — as the hero. I don’t want to spoil it for you, just go read.

If your tastes run toward werewolves, What is happening to me? delivers. It’s structured as an actual blog, so you have to start with the first post (to which I pointed you) and work your way up from the bottom. Someone described it as an “epistolary novel," a story using a series of letters (or diary entries) as building blocks. There’s an immediacy, a “life as it’s happening” quality to it that the traditional novel would be hard-pressed to offer.

One thing both stories have in common: their plots twist in ways I didn’t expect. That can be dangerous, but in both cases I found it delightful. Surprises are good, as long as they don’t go off in some random direction — the plot twist has to connect the new direction to earlier elements of the story is all.

Again, go forth and read. And shiver.

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