Two More Ways for Writers to Milk the Cash Cow

So you want to make money as a writer. I feel a Seinfeld coming on: Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Because there absolutely isn’t. In fact, it’s a good thing to write for money.
Writers write. And these days, writers increasingly publish. But digital and print are not the only games in town. To invigorate the flow of your income stream, think diversification.As in, trying new things, putting out your content in all possible forms. Here are two to consider: Audio and Serialization.
Audio
According to the Wall Street Journal (link may expire),there is an “explosion” in the production and consumption of audio books:
“We’re moving toward a media-agnostic consumer who doesn’t think of the difference between textual and visual and auditory experience,” says Don Katz, Audible’s founder and CEO. “It’s the story, and it is there for you in the way you want it.”
Audio books have ballooned into a $1.2 billion industry, up from $480 million in retail sales in 1997. Unit sales of downloaded audio books grew by nearly 30% in 2011 compared with 2010, according to the Audio Publishers Association. Now they can be downloaded onto smartphones with the tap of a finger, often for the price of an e-book.
This development is not without its critics and concerns:
The rapid rise of audio books has prompted some hand-wringing about how we consume literature. Print purists doubt that listening to a book while multitasking delivers the same experience as sitting down and silently reading. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that for competent readers, there is virtually no difference between listening to a story and reading it. The format has little bearing on a reader’s ability to understand and remember a text. Some scholars argue that listening to a text might even improve understanding, especially for difficult works like Shakespeare, where a narrator’s interpretation of the text can help convey the meaning.
Despite the doubts, it’s clear that audio is not only here to stay, it’s going to keep on growing. Which means another income stream for authors.
If you are going it alone, writer, the path to a recorded version of your work couldn’t be simpler. The ACX program at Amazon has one of the most user-friendly sites in publishing. Go cruise around it and see for yourself. Start hereto get an overview of the program.
You have two basic choices. You can pay for equipment (or rent a studio) and figure out how to produce your own work. Or you can partner up with a narrator/producer and split the proceeds. That’s what I chose to do with a guy named Sands from Alaska. Together we have two audiobooks available:
I’m currently auditioning female narrators for the audio version Pay Me in Flesh (Note: I retained those rights during contract negotiations. If you go traditional, discuss this with your agent). I’ll do the same with the other 8 books I have available with women as protagonists. For some of my other work, I’m planning to try it myself. I like listening to Stephen King narrate his own books, and I figure what’s good enough for him…
Serialization
Now we come to the serials idea, which is gaining momentum via Amazon. I recently interviewed thriller author Reece Hirsch, author of The Adversary (serialized via Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint) about his new venture:
“I’m writing a series of thrillers for Thomas & Mercer, featuring Chris Bruen, a former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor who is now in private practice helping clients combat hackers and cybercriminals. Each of the three books in the series will be published initially as Kindle Serials, which means that for a one-time price of $1.99, an episode will be automatically delivered to your Kindle each week for eight weeks. After the serialization is complete, the book will be available for order as a paperback and as a regular ebook. The book’s pricing is typically higher after the serialization period.”
In addition to the serialization, Amazon sets up a discussion board for each Serial so that readers can comment on the episodes as they’re released. “I intend to mix it up with

readers on the discussion board as much as possible,” Reece says.

Reece also notes an additional marketing aspect of serialization:
“The Serials program offers a two-month initial rollout as the episodes are released at a relatively low price, and then the opportunity for a renewed marketing push when the complete ebook and paperback become available. Thrillers, which tend to feature plenty of cliffhanger chapter endings, are uniquely well suited to serialization.”
There was another writer who did okay with serials. Hmm, what was his name again? Oh yeah, a fellow named Dickens. Will the same dynamic that worked in 1875 work in 2013? “I’m looking forward to finding out,” Reece told me. “I measure the ROI in terms of the massive amounts of time I devote to writing a novel for readers. If being part of the Kindle Serials program helps me connect with a larger readership, then I trust that will translate into a decent financial return.”
What about you, TKZ readers? Do you listen to audio books? What about the serials idea? Maybe you should use Reece Hirsch and The Adversary as a try out. 

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How Writers Should Die


When I first waded into the waters of self-publishing, I did so with two novellas. The first, WATCH YOUR BACK, showed me within the first month the potential for shorter books in the indie world. The second, ONE MORE LIE,became the first self-published work to be nominated for an International Thriller Writers Award, for which I will always be grateful.
And I owe it all to James M. Cain.
Cain, as most of you know, was the author of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, his most famous work. Just behind it are DOUBLE INDEMNITY and MILDRED PIERCE. With hit movies based on each, Cain was, by 1947, one of the most famous novelists in America. The postman was delivering him a lot of money in those days.
His best books were written in a style that Cain made his calling card: the first-person confessional. The narrators recount their downfalls due to the entanglements of lust or greed or some combination thereof. There is something so direct in Cain’s prose. Spare and unsparing. Hardboiled but with a heart. Dialogue that snaps. Plots like runaway trains.
So one day I found myself sitting down to write about a man with a confession to make, and out came WATCH YOUR BACK. I liked it so much I did the same with ONE MORE LIE.
And I’m pleased to no end that the novella is back! You couldn’t get them published traditionally. They just didn’t sell. They were a staple of the old pulp era, but dinosaurs by the end of the twentieth century.
Now, with self-publishing, with low prices and instant delivery, novellas are back stronger than ever. I plan to make them a staple of my future work.
But even more important to me in all this is the example of Cain the man, Cain the writer. He was riding high when the 1950s hit, but then began a period of decline. Publishers started rejecting his stuff. He became, in the eyes of many, “damaged goods.”
By 1963 Cain was 71 years old and without any contracts. He thought he might be the very thing he never wanted to become: an ex-writer. Yet James M. Cain still wrote a 1200 words every morning. Here he is doing that very thing, on his beloved typewriter, at the age of 75:

Now that is inspirational. And guess what? At the age of 82 James M. Cain received the largest advance of his career, for his novel RAINBOW’S END, which was published to excellent reviews. He completed another novel that was published and well received, then immediately got to work on a new one. He had just completed THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS when he died at the age of 85. That last “lost” novel has now been published by the good folks at Hard Case Crime.
That is a writer’s good death–type THE END and keel over! Don’t you believe that? You’re a writer, after all. It’s what you do. You’d do it even if everyone in your family came to you at midnight, woke you up and begged you, for your own good, to stop writing once and for all. You’d tell them to get out of the room because you’re dreaming of your next book and the boys in the basement need to get to work!
And that is why I will never stop writing. Even if the postman stops delivering checks. 

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How to Write a Novella

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell 

One of our regular readers, Elizabeth Poole, left a comment on Clare’s Monday post about prequels and sequels. Specifically, Ms. Poole said, “As a writer, it’s been difficult to find information on writing novellas especially. Most articles I read say ‘it’s like a novel, only shorter.’
Hello, Captain Obvious.”

Well, if I may be so bold as to jump into a phone booth (wait, do they have those?) and emerge as Captain Craft––as well as the author of two currently selling novellas––let me take a stab at the subject.

Yes, a novella is obviously shorter than a novel. A rule of thumb puts the novella between 20k and 40k words.

Here are the general guidelines for writing a novella. I say general because, like all writing principles, they are subject to change. But ONLY if you have a good reason for the exception!

1. One plot

The length of the novella dictates that it have one plot. It’s a too short to support subplots. That doesn’t mean you don’t have plot complications.It’s just that you are doing your dance around one story problem.

2. One POV

It’s almost always best to stick with one point of view. Both of my novellas, Watch Your Back and One More Lie, are written in first person POV. That’s because you want, in the short space you have, to create as intimate a relationship between the Lead character and the reader as possible.

As indicated earlier, more than one POV is acceptable if you have a reason for including it. And that reason is NOT so you can fill more pages.

A modern master of the novella is, of course, Stephen King. A look at his collection, Different Seasons, reveals three novellas written in first person POV. The exception is Apt Pupil, which is about an ex-Nazi’s influence over a thirteen-year-old boy. The story thus has a reason for shifting between these two points of view. However, I note that Apt Pupil is the longest of these, and I actually suspect it’s over 40k words, making it a short novel.

3. One central question

There is one story question per novella, usually in the form: Will X get Y?

In Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King, the question is, will the wrongly convicted Andy Dufresne survive in God-awful Shawshank prison?

In The Old Man and the Sea: Will the old fisherman, Santiago, land the big fish?

A Christmas Carol: Will Ebenezer Scrooge get redemption?

4. One style and tone

There are novels that crack the style barrier in various ways, but a novella should stick to one tone, one style throughout.

In the old pulp days, novellas were common and usually written in the hard boiled style.

My two novellas are done in the confessional style of James M. Cain––the narrator looking back at his past sins, detailing the consequences of same, with a twist ending.

Romance would have a different tone. Ditto paranormal. Whatever the genre, keep it consistent.

The Benefits of the Novella

Digital publishing has brought novellas back into favor. There are some story ideas that don’t merit 90k words, but may be just right for 30k. The suspense story is particularly apt for this form. One of the great masters, Cornell Woolrich, practically made his career on novellas of suspense.

An indie-publishing writer can charge 99¢ – $2.99 for novellas. They can obviously be turned out more quickly than a full length novel.

Some Suggestions for Writing the Novella

1. Make sure your premise is rock solid

You don’t want to travel down the road of a flabby idea, only to find out after 15k words that it isn’t working. Come up with a premise that creates the greatest possible stress for the Lead character. For example, One More Lie is about a man accused of murdering his mistress. He’s innocent of the crime, but guilty of the adultery. A bit of stress, I’d say.

2. Write in the heat of passion

Novellas are great for the NaNoWriMos among us. Getting the story down quickly releases that inner creativity we long for. And there won’t be the need for as much revision as in a novel, which has subplot complications to deal with.

3. Use white space to designate scene changes

Instead of chapters, the novella usually employs white space between scenes. Some writers do break up a novella into sections designated by numbers. That’s a matter of style. Just don’t say “Chapter 1” etc. It’s not necessary and interrupts what should be the flow.

4. Keep asking, How can it get worse?

Whether your novella is about the inner life of a character (as in The Old Man and the Sea)or the outer life of the plot (as in Double Indemnity) turn up the heat on the character as much as you can.

Think of the novella as a coil that gets tighter and tighter, until you release it at the end.

Some Famous Novellas

The Pearl,John Steinbeck

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The Body, Stephen King

Double Indemnity, James M. Cain

A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean

Phantom Lady, William Irish (aka Cornell Woolrich)

So what do you readers thing of the novella form? Any favorites?

And you writers out there, have you tackled the novella? Or at least danced with it?

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Writers, Awards and The Journey

James Scott Bell


This past week TKZ blogmate John Gilstrap and I received the lovely news that we are finalists for a 2012 International Thriller Writers Award. Even lovelier, we are not in the same category, so we can root for each other without tight smiles. John’s novel, Threat Warning, is up for the Best Paperback Original. I’m up in the short story category for One More Lie.
Which prompted a few thoughts on awards, kudos and the writing journey.
Of course, every writer––indeed, anybody who does anything––likes awards and recognition. That’s our nature, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Used rightly, it can be a motivation to good work and striving to get better.
But it should never be a dominating drive, in my view, or it might become a snare and a distraction.
One of my heroes is the late UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. When I was in high school I got to attend his basketball camp, and talk to him a bit. Coach Wooden gave all of us a copy of his Pyramid of Successand taught us more than just the fundamentals of the game.


“Individual recognition, praise, can be a dangerous commodity,” Coach Wooden once wrote. “It’s best not to drink too deeply from a cup full of fame. It can be very intoxicating, and intoxicated people often do foolish things.”
He was just as clear about losses. Never measure yourself by what you lost, but by how you prepared. That’s the only thing within your control and the only thing you can change.
“I never mentioned winning or victory to my players,” Wooden said. “Instead I constantly urged them to strive for the self-satisfaction that always comes from knowing you did the best you could do to become the best of which you are capable.”
That’s his famous definition of success, and it’s rock solid. When we work hard and know we’ve taken whatever talents we have and pushed them further along, that’s achievement. It’s one of the reasons I teach writing classes and workshops. I love helping writers get to their own next level, whatever it may be for them.
So regardless of what happens at this year’s ITW Awards, I will be happy for the trip to New York with my wife, for hanging out with John and other writers I admire, and appreciating the privilege of being included in such august company.
But then it will be time to come back to L.A. and hit the keyboard again, working hard to be the best I can be. It makes each day its own challenge and, in striving, its own reward. Don’t miss that by letting an inordinate desire for recognition mess with your head.
“I derived my greatest satisfaction out of the preparation, the journey,” Wooden wrote. “Day after day, week after week, year after year. It was the journey I prized above all else.”
*Quotations are from Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Courtby John Wooden and Steve Jamison (Contemporary Books, 1997)



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How I Went From Idea to Story

James Scott Bell
Twitter.com/jamesscottbell

I used to say this: It’s not a lie if somebody isn’t owed the truth. I don’t say that anymore. One More Lie
I am pleased to announce the publication of my new suspense collection, ONE MORE LIE. It’s available on Kindle, Nookand Smashwords.  You can view the trailer here.
This collection includes the title novella and three new stories. I thought it might be instructive to tell you how I went from idea to story for the novella.
There are various creative exercises I use to come up with story possibilities. One of my favorites is the first line game. You make up a bunch of intriguing first lines all at once and see where they lead. I learned this from Dean Koontz in his classic HOW TO WRITE BESTSELLING FICTION. Koontz himself once wrote the line: “You ever killed anything?” Roy asked. He didn’t know anything else, but the line grabbed him and eventually he turned it into the hit novel The Voice of the Night.
For ONE MORE LIE, I actually got a first chapteridea. So I wrote it. I liked it so much I put it in my “active file” to noodle on later.
It stayed there for about a year as I worked on other projects, primarily those for which I had been paid, the publishers having the perfectly quaint notion that I therefore owed them a book.
But every now and again I’d return to that opening and think about it.
The day came when I had a window of time and decided to give it a whirl. So what I did was this:
1. Fleshed out the main characters. In this case there were four, and I spent time coming up with relationships and backstory. That in turn suggested further plot developments. I call this “orchestration” and it’s one of the most important things a writer can do with a new idea.
2. I experimented with POV. I had originally written the opening in 3d person. Sometimes I’ll switch POV to see how it feels. In this case, I decided that First Person was a better fit. My previous novella, WATCH YOUR BACK, was written in that sort of James M. Cain style I like, so I went with the same for ONE MORE LIE.
3. I let the plot unfold as I wrote, but took notes and outlined as I went. This is a “rolling outline” that enables you to think ahead during the writing process itself. It allows a certain freedom in plot while at the same time you’re building a solid structure. One benefit is that a particular twist happened out of the blue that completely changed the direction of the story and gave it the deeper dimension I was looking for.
4. I completed a first draft, let it sit, then printed it out in hard copy for my first read through. I take minimal notes at this stage, wanting to have a “reading experience” first. Then I assessed the big picture and revised it.
5. I gave it to my beta readers, starting with my lovely wife, who has a great editorial eye. I got terrific notes back. One of the readers did the copy edit for me.
6. I prepared it for e-publication, sent it out to be formatted. My son wanted to take a stab at designing the cover, and who was I to argue? The price was right. As in zip.

7. My son, a film grad, also did the trailer. For that I bought him dinner.
The result is a novella that got this advance copy blurb from Ane Mulligan of Novel Rocket: “James Scott Bell is at his best in One More Lie. Fast paced, this novella will leave you breathless to the unforeseen end. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Novel Rocket and I give it our highest recommendation. It’s a must read!”
And I still love that first chapter. So I’ve put it up online and invite you to read it. If you feel compelled to read on (and I think you will be) then for $2.99 you can get the whole thing, plus three other stories to boot. No contests. No gimmicks. Just bang for your reading buck. That’s what I’m going for every time out.
Now I want to know about YOU. How do you like to generate and nourish ideas? When do you know you’re ready to take one to the max and write? 
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