Book Expo America 2018

MONTANA AUTHOR TAKES A SMALL BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE

The population of my Montana home town is around 25,000—about the same number of people I encountered during six days at Book Expo America (BEA) and BookCon in New York City.

BEA is the biggest annual convention of book publishers, booksellers, distributors, librarians, and authors in North America. With 840,000 square feet of exhibit space at the Javits Center and nearly 500 exhibitors, the show is so big that Publishers Weekly covers it with daily tabloid reports of 70-100 pages each.

The event is open to industry professionals, not the public. I was fortunate to be invited to check out the inner workings of the business. What a learning experience it was!

Big names draw big crowds. Celebrities launching new books stayed busy autographing advance reading copies (ARCs). Some wait lines rivaled Splash Mountain at Disney World. This year’s stars included a couple of guys named Patterson and Clinton who co-wrote a thriller, along with Nicholas Sparks, Sally Field, Barbara Kingsolver, Trevor Noah, and more.

Debbie Burke and Hank Phillippi Ryan

 

I was delighted to meet the charming Hank Phillippi Ryan at the signing of her new book Trust Me. A few weeks before, I’d watched Hank teach a great online class sponsored by International Thriller Writers (TKZ’s own James Scott Bell also taught a segment of the webinar).

One Librarian’s Bounty

 

 

Librarians from all over the country flock to BEA to pick up bagfuls of free ARCs to help them decide what to order for the coming year. Their biggest expense must be the charge for overweight checked baggage!

Important lesson to authors: librarians are your best friends. If librarians get behind your book, their efficient network can put millions of eyes on your work.

 

 

Not surprisingly, Amazon isn’t exactly the most popular kid on the BEA playground. The headline of one daily report read: “Amazon’s Actions Remain a Problem,” a quote by the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. The article talked about the impact of “lost jobs, stores, and uncollected taxes” due to the online giant.

The Big Five (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster) had large showy booths on main aisles. In contrast, Amazon’s booth was in a distant corner, far from the entrance.

Since Amazon’s Kindle Press had published my thriller Instrument of the Devil, I trekked all the way to the rear of the exhibit hall to visit them. But when I got there…..

Black curtains surrounded all four sides of the booth. Through the gauzy fabric, I could see people moving inside. But there was no entrance.

Hmmm.

Upon further investigation, I was told Amazon specifically requests a private booth for book publicists to meet with major media to pitch upcoming titles.

Oh.

In addition to the Big Five, scores of indie publishers had booths, representing niche markets for religious, ethnic, political and social issues, health and fitness, food and cooking, short fiction collections. No matter what off-the-wall subject you imagine, chances are someone has published a book about it that shows up at BEA.

Children’s and YA book publishers were out in force, introducing thousands of new products: print books, graphic novels, puzzles, interactive 3D devices, plus tie-in merchandising like costumes, cuddly stuffed characters, sports equipment, etc. There were even quaint retro items like pens and stationary. Could writing actual letters be making a comeback?

Waiting for autographs from their favorite authors

 

BEA runs from Wednesday through Friday for industry pros. BookCon follows on the weekend and is open to the public. Thousands of readers crowded the Javits Center on Saturday and Sunday. They pored over new releases, waited in line for autographs from favorite authors…

BookCon 2018

 

…and posed for photos dressed up as popular book characters.

Older folks (like myself) often complain about young people zombie-walking through life with bent necks, mesmerized by their smartphones. Yet at BookCon, I didn’t notice a single example of that disconnection. Kids engaged with each other and were excited about new adventures in reading. Witnessing that gave me hope.

 

 

Audio book sales continue to grow by double digits, 30+% increase in the last year alone.

A major BEA sponsor for 2018 was Blackstone Publishing. In 1987, the family-owned independent audio publisher started producing cassettes in a garage in Ashland, Oregon. They tapped into the town’s renowned Shakespeare Festival for narrating talent.

Three decades later, Blackstone has expanded into a full-service publisher of print and e-books in addition to audio, employing more than 200 people. Still headquartered in Ashland, they’ve increased their presence in NYC with acquisitions editors, audio narrators, and a sound studio that’s second to none.

Blackstone also showed me firsthand what a debut author’s dream launch should look like.

Excited debut author Susan Purvis with the banner of her new book

Last April, I wrote about cadaver dogs and mentioned Susan Purvis’s upcoming memoir, Go Find, which Blackstone is publishing. At BEA, they rolled out the red carpet for Susan, including a 10-foot-tall banner at the entrance of the Javits Center.

At their booth, lighted signs showcased new releases. Book covers were displayed on video screens. During signings, representatives guided people through the waiting line, graciously giving out swag including postcards, book bags, and ARCs.

This contrasted sharply with some author signings sponsored by bigger houses where I wondered if cattle prods might be in use!

 

Blackstone’s good treatment of authors has resulted in them picking up bestsellers like Orson Scott Card, cozy queen M.C. Beaton, and mother-daughter fantasy writers P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

Despite BEA’s gargantuan scope, it offered opportunities to make personal contacts.

A couple of hours into the first morning, I sank down at a vacant table, already exhausted, eyes glazing over. A woman with a similar dazed expression sat across from me and we commiserated about feeling overwhelmed. Her name was Bee Kapitan, a designer from Vancouver. She had just received an Independent Publisher Award for her interactive e-book How To Say Cheese. I showed her the proposed cover for my new book, Stalking Midas, and she graciously made suggestions. She introduced me to the burgeoning world of interactive book design. We’ll be keeping in touch.

I’m learning from Umair Kazi (l) and Francesco Grisanzio (r)

Another valuable connection occurred with the Authors Guild. I knew of their excellent advocacy for writers but hadn’t gotten around to joining. At their booth, I talked with staff attorney Umair Kazi and digital services coordinator Francesco Grisanzio about rights reversion. Their guidance helped me make a career decision I’d been putting off. Needless to say, after their assistance, I signed up to become a member.

Another service they offer to authors is contract review. Before you sign a publishing contract, AG attorneys will review it and clarify the Byzantine maze of legalese. That alone is worth the $125 annual dues.

Authors Guild has also forged a communication channel into Amazon to register author complaints. Hopefully AG’s advocacy will temper Amazon’s review policies that, to authors, often appear capricious and arbitrary.

BEA gave me amazing insight into the publishing business. If I included all the adventures and interesting people I met in the Big Apple, this post would run into next week!

I’ll stop now and turn it over to TKZers for questions and comments.

A final post script: on the trip home I was privileged to meet a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor. That story is too long to add here but it can be found on my blog.

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Forgotten. But Not Gone.

I’m traveling today through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey…wait a minute. Let me begin again. I kind of feel the way that I did the first time I walked into a Rocket Fizz store a couple of years ago and saw all sorts of different brands of candy that I hadn’t seen the 1960s.  I’m not talking about candy, however. I’m talking about books. To be more precise, I’m talking about buying books through the mail, long before something called “Amazon” became a business.

This feeling occurred while I was trying to decide what to write about for my blog post this morning. That would be the one you are reading right now. I had four — yes, four — different topics going but they all each and all kind of meandered into nowhere. I got on a tangent involving how the science fiction genre has changed and got nostalgic for The Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC). Those of you of a certain age will remember book clubs. There was Book of the Month Club, SFBC, and the Mystery Guild (MG). There might have been a club for romance books as well. I belonged to the SFBC for almost fifteen years, from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. It was easy to join. You perused an ad insert— usually in a science-fiction magazine — tore it out, filled out a membership card, selected a certain number of books for a few dollars plus postage, and mailed it and  your check to the club. You agreed to buy two or four books at the regular price sometime over the following two years. Every three weeks or so you were sent (there was no email in those days, no Amazon, no internet, no cable television) a catalog offering two feature offerings, a backlist, and a few exclusive three-in-one volumes or some such thing. If you wanted the two feature books, they made it soooooooo easy! You didn’t have to do anything!  You just waited and the SFBC would send you the books. If you didn’t want one or both of them, however, the cat was on your back to send a pre-printed card back by a certain date, affirmatively stating that you didn’t want the books. The card also gave you the opportunity to order other books if you wished. It was kind of an honor system. It was cool, but it was also a bit of a pain to send the cards in on time. If you didn’t do so for a couple of months your front porch soon resembled that of Mickey Mouse’s in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” except with books instead of brooms. I kind of lost interest in the whole concept when the science fiction genre began to change and while the idea of The Mystery Guild was intriguing I was kind of sour on the whole mail order thing. I could pretty much get whatever I wanted from bookstores. I quit hearing about book clubs and the like in the 1990s and assumed they had gone the way of the phone booth.

And I was wrong!

I discovered not one-half hour ago that the SFBC and MG have bravely and mightily soldiered on, in updated fashion. They both have changed a bit. No more catalogs, and no more honor system (you submit your credit card information when you join). They do have a couple of enticements to get you to join and to remain a member, and, most importantly, to continue buying books. I have to give them credit for staying with the mail order game for books. I mean, after all, that they had a hand in creating the concept of books and with The Book of the Month Club more or less ruled the territory, until ol’ Chrome Dome from Seattle,, genius that he is, kind of moved in and took over the sandbox. Both clubs continue to stake out their genre niche, however. You can access the Mystery Guild website here and the Science Fiction Book Club website here.

I’m kind of wondering…why don’t more readers talk about this? Why don’t I see more of a MG presence at reader/author conventions like Bouchercon and Thrillerfest? Or are they there and hide when they see me coming? Is the fact that these businesses have continued to operate well known to everyone but me, kind of like the Channel Zero anthology on the SyFy Channel?  And…if you don’t feel like answering those questions…tell me if you would one or more things that you loved as a child (or teenager) that you thought was gone forever, but have discovered is still around. Please. And thank you.

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Writers Need to be Amphibious

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

So here we are at the end of another Kill Zone year. (We’ll be taking our traditional two-week break starting tomorrow.) It’s been an amazing run for this blog, which began way back in August of 2008. I’m in awe of my colleagues, both present and emeriti, for the depth of their wisdom and generosity of spirit toward the writing community.

Emeriti, by the way, is the Latin plural of emeritus.

Aren’t you glad you stopped by?

Reminds me of my favorite Latin joke. Or I should say, only Latin joke.

Julius Caesar walks into a bar and orders a martinus.

The bartender says, “You mean a martini?”

And Caesar says, “If I wanted a double I would have asked for it!”

Speaking of which, 2017 was a year a lot of people ordered doubles. I seriously think we need to take a collective breath and, for a couple of weeks at least, imbibe the true spirit of this season: family, friends, generosity and gratitude.

And just plain old relaxation! So kick back and watch a couple holiday movies (Miracle on 34th Street and the 1951 Christmas Carol are always at the top of my list, though I would remind everyone that Die Hard and Lethal Weapon are Christmas movies, too!)

Don’t stress about things you can’t control (this is the wisdom of the Stoics, and what says holiday fun more than the Stoics?) As Epictetus (b. 50, d. 135) so succinctly put it, “There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

Changes in technology, Amazon algorithms, the size of advances … these are beyond the power of our will. Ditto the shrinking of slots in traditional publishing catalogues, the number of bookstores that are still open, and bestseller lists (unless, of course, one takes the nefarious road of buying one’s way onto the NYT list, in which case the power of will has been corrupted by the siren song of list-lust. Don’t go there).

Nor can we stuff a stopper in the flood of system gamers, sock puppets, nasty reviewers, and inveterate haters—except to the extent that we adamantly refuse to become one of them.

What is within our power?

Our writing, of course. Our dedication to it. Our determination. Our discipline.

The page we’re working on.

The goals we set and the plans we make.

Concentrate on those things. Chill about the rest.

This is still the greatest time on earth to be a writer. Remember, just ten short years ago there was only one way to get published and into bookstores. The walls of the Forbidden City were formidable indeed.

Then came the Kindle, just in time for Christmas 2007, and suddenly there was another way to get published and into the largest bookstore in the world (with your cover facing out, no less!)

During those heady first years of digital disruption, a few pioneering scribes jumped in and showed massive ebook sales at the 99¢ price point. This got the attention of writers inside (and formerly inside) the Forbidden City, and ushered in a “gold-rush” phase when good and productive writers began to make really serious money going directly to Amazon.

At the same time, traditional publishing began to stagger around like a boxer who gets clocked just before the bell rings to end the round. Many predicted that by 2013 or ’14, the whole traditional industry would be kissing canvas.

Instead, we have entered a new equilibrium where the wild highs in the indie world are leveling off, and the disruptive lows in the traditional world are bottoming out (as one trad insider put it to me, “Flat is the new up.”)

But change, albeit more slowly, continues. Thus, what both of these worlds demand are a new set of business practices. I’ve tried to provide these for the indie writer. I’m not sure who the Bigs are listening to, but I suspect they need more Sun Tzu than Peter Drucker these days.

However, here is one bottom-line truth that applies across the board and will always be apt: What wins out in the end, and perhaps the only thing that does, is quality plus time, which I define as steady fiction production providing a swath of readers with satisfying emotional experiences. This holds true for any genre. You can figure out and strive to do the things that create reader satisfaction.

And what are those things? They are matters of craft. The more you are conversant with the tools and techniques of fiction, the better your quality control. It’s like that inspirational quote from a college basketball player some years ago. During an interview he said, “I can go to my left or to my right. I’m completely amphibious.”

Writer, you have to be amphibious to make it in the swirling ocean and on the rocky shores of the book world today. So my end-of-the-year suggestion is this: Invest in your writing self. Spend a certain amount of money on writing-related improvement, like books and workshops. Go to a good conference and network with other writers. If you’re starting to realize a little income from your writing, set aside a portion of it for this type of ongoing investment.

And do take advantage of one of the best free writing resources around—Kill Zone! Traipse through our library and archives. Subscribe to our feed so you don’t miss a day. Leave comments! We love the writing conversation.

We’re on this journey together, so keep in mind something the great Stoic philosopher Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Let’s take it in 2018!

Blessings on you this holiday season, from all of us at TKZ to all of you.

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Ring out the Old…

kelvinator

Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…and sometimes I write. I am doing the latter while waiting for Kelvin, our venerable refrigerator, to be hauled away. Kelvin lasted a long time, taking the blame for disappearing food (“Who ate the last pork chop?” “Kelvinator!”) for two decades and change. It is the last original major appliance in the Hartlaub House of Hoo-Ha to give up the ghost. I bought it and this house twenty-two years ago — July 1, 1994 — when I was a single dad with three children. Four days after I moved myself and my brood into this residence and started making it a home a company named “Amazon” started in Seattle, Washington, with the goal of being the world’s largest bookstore. The new refrigerator wasn’t purchased from Amazon, but it could have been.

I won’t try to list all or even a few of the things that have happened in the world since Kelvin was pressed into service. I’ll tell you a few of the things that have happened to me. They were all surprises. I remarried. I had a fourth child. I’ve had stories published, had a supporting role in a feature film (which you all may yet see in 2017), changed my field of law practice, written some book reviews for bookreporter.com (which didn’t exist in 1994 either), and acquired a whole bunch of new friends (and yes, maybe a couple of enemies too!). Kelvin was a part of a bit of all of that, and it’s going to somewhat of a somber moment when the truck pulls up to haul it away, to be replaced by what more likely than not will be my last refrigerator, particularly if the new one lasts as long as the old one did.

“Somber” for me has usually been followed by “pensive.” It would be easy as the old year ends and a new one begins to reflexively list my New Year’s resolutions, and ask you to share yours as well. Instead, I’m going to ask you: what is it that you don’t want to do in 2017? Mine is easy to state, and hard to do, particularly because it soooo easy in my case to use age an excuse to do otherwise. I’m going to try however, to follow this rule: Don’t. Screw. Up. Now let’s see yours.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year! Be safe. We’ll see you on the other side of the New Year.

 

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Reading Reviews: It’s Complicated

There are as many approaches to dealing with reviews as there are writers, ranging from the diehards who don’t read their reviews, ever, to the snowflakes among us who turn into sad, quivering puddles at the sight of the dreaded single star. (As a former snowflake, I resemble that remark.)

Book reviews fall into several categories:

–Good (Loved it!!!! Five Stars!!!)

–Bad (“Horrible!! wish I hadn’t read it.”)

–Meh (or what I like to call damned by faint praise)

–Irrelevant Content

–All About the Reviewer

–Actionable

 

The Good Review

Everyone loves a good review (except your enemies). It feeds the ego of the little kid inside of us who trudged home from school clutching a hand-loomed potholder, desperate to hear that it was the BEST POTHOLDER IN THE WORLD! We’re adults now, of course. We are mature professionals who understand that a job well done is still just a job, and while we humbly tell ourselves that there are probablydefinitelycertainly things we could have done better, somebody thinks it’s the BEST POTHOLDER BOOK IN THE WORLD!

The Bad Review

Only true masochists enjoy getting bad reviews. I’m skeptical of writers who proclaim that they pay close attention to their worst reviews, saying they learn a lot from them. The most important thing to learn here is that not everybody is going to like our potholders books, in the same way not everyone is going to like you or me. This is when it’s important to remember that you are not your work. Though as artists (or craftspeople) our identities heavily influence our work, our work is a separate entity. Even if it’s a memoir.

The Meh Review

In some ways, the meh* reviews are the most frustrating. I would almost rather have a sharp, declarative bad review because the meh review is the participation trophy of the review world. A two or three star meh review means that the reader wasn’t much moved by the work. I want a decisive reaction, not a plot summary with a complaint or two about stereotypical characters or questionable geography. I feel like I haven’t done my job if I haven’t polarized and energized a few readers one way or the other.

*I found a 3-star review for Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises titled Meh: “Meh. Concise. Not much happens. It’s about postwar drunks dishonest with reality. Why does Amazon have a min word count on review?”

The Irrelevant Content Review

Ah, the Irrelevant Content review. This type of review is pretty much restricted to online purchases. Should a “Received in a timely manner as advertised” review award four stars or five? Tough call.

The All About the Reviewer Review

All About the Reviewer reviews can be a lot of fun. These reviews are for…other reviewers! Back in the day (and now occasionally in the New York Review of Books) there were many actual book critics who spent their time explaining books by connecting their cultural context and literary significance. Good critics were well versed in their specialties and liked to show it. The wittiest ones were often cheerfully savage and careers were made or hearts were broken. Now, the standard All About the Reviewer review is an extensive book report written for the reviewer’s memory of their favorite high school English teacher. I may seem to be poking fun, but these are the most useful reviews to people who are trying to decide whether to buy/read a book. They’re often thoughtful, complete, and nearly always earnest.

The Actionable Review

The Actionable review needs to be dealt with by the entity that published it or allowed it to be published. Actionable reviews are often ad hominem attacks that are meant to both draw attention to the reviewer and provoke the writer, i.e. “Ms. Author is a moral reprobate who hates babies and blinds puppies!” Here again it’s important for a writer to remember that they are not their work. Any reviewer is within their rights to express opinions about the work, but it’s not okay for them to abuse the writer.

I’m sure you can think of many other kinds of reviews. Feel free to chime in below.

I took a lighthearted approach to describing types of reviews because the subject can be a loaded, painful one. Our work is out there for everyone to see. To judge. To like or dislike.

Whenever I’m tempted to read reviews of my work, I keep in mind what my very first writing teacher told me: “You don’t get to look over your reader’s shoulder and explain your work. It is what it is.” That’s it. It’s out on paper or online (or shared with your workshop or writing group or significant other) and it must stand on its own. Sometimes it’s going to wobble, and sometimes someone is going to point out where you screwed up. That’s the way of sending work out into the world. The sending out has to be its own reward because there are no guarantees once it’s done.

If you’re not one of the stalwart writers who can confidently take anything a reviewer throws at you, pause a moment before you sit down to read your reviews at Goodreads or Amazon or anywhere else and ask yourself a few questions:

Am I looking for approbation? If so, then go ask your mom or spouse or bff what they think of your work, because while you might find some solace in reviews, you’re going to find a lot of other things that are nothing like approbation.

Am I being tempted to look at reviews by my overbearing inner critic? This is your own resistance trying to keep you from your work. Your inner critic will skim over all the nice things it reads and zero in on the negative comments. These are the ones that will stay with you when you sit down to write.

Am I willing to give equal weight to both the negative and positive reviews? This is related to the inner critic question. If you believe all the bad stuff, then you might as well believe all the good stuff, too. And vice versa.

Is there critical information that will help me become a better writer? This is a tricky one. Sure, there may be some clues in there, but if your goal truly is to become a better writer, then find a good editor and pay them to tell you what needs to change. Good editors rarely spend their time giving away their advice for free in reviews.

If I read my reviews, am I likely to be motivated to put my backside in the chair and write my thousand words today when I’m done? For me, this answer is always a resounding no. Your experience may be different. If someone writes to me and tells me how much they like my work, I sail away to my keyboard on Cloud Nine, but I’ve never felt that way after reading a review. And reading negative reviews can knock me off my schedule for days. Sometimes weeks.

My relationship with reviews has evolved significantly over the past decade. At the beginning I approached even Amazon reviews with reverence and fear. My attitude was funny given that I reviewed for a newspaper for ten years. I knew how subjective reviews were. Much depends on the reviewer’s workload, tastes, and expectations. But I couldn’t get past the kid waving the potholder for several years. I wanted everyone to love my work! And if they didn’t, I spent a lot of time worrying that there was something wrong with it.

I can’t pinpoint when I changed. Somewhere along the line I stopped having expectations of the people who—often very kindly—bothered to take the time to write down what they liked, or didn’t like, about my work. I turned my concentration to my characters, making them more human, even occasionally sympathetic. That was what I could control. Now, months can go by and I don’t even know about new reviews that have gone up.

There’s so much more to be said about reviews. What is your approach to reading them? How has it changed over your career? If you don’t have reviews yet, how do you handle criticism from the people you share your work with?

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Making a Case for Novellas: Short is the New Black

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

books-768426_1280

How many books do you write a year? – To keep your work in front of readers, it’s advantageous to have a new offering every 90 days. Gone are the days when 1 to 2 books a year keeps an author in the public eye, not with all the competition issuing teasers, serials, advance chapters, etc. That’s a lot of writing between bouts of promotion.

But don’t let the competition overwhelm you. New offerings could be boxed sets of your previously released material, or a remake of a previously released novel where you have received your rights back, or it could be a shorter length work like a novella that you can write between projects. Allow me to make a case for writing novellas and see if some of these ideas fit your annual goals.

The Versatile Novella:

1.) GEN BUZZ – You can create buzz about an upcoming novel by utilizing a short back story for the main character featured in your new series. A discounted or free teaser is a great way to entice new readers to try your books. (Word of Caution – If you plan on submitting your new series for traditional publication, a shorter serialization of your idea may be objectionable to a publisher. They could feel the material has already been exposed to readers.)

2.) ENHANCE CASH FLOW – Novellas can generate cash flow between longer projects.

3.) CHARACTER FOCUS – Novellas can be used to feature the main character in unique clever scenarios or if your readership finds your secondary characters interesting, you could feature them in shorter offerings. For example, I have always wanted to know how Elvis Cole and Joe Pike met in Robert Crais’s PI series. Crais has fielded this question many times from readers. A short story could be a huge revenue generator and a gift to his legions of fans.

4.) ADVANCE TEASERS – Have you noticed how many big named authors release the first 10 chapters or so for a new novel coming out shortly? This lure can also serve as promotion of the series or novel and be a part of the new material offering every 90 days.

5.) WRITING TIME FILLER – A novella can be a writing time filler (between contracts) if you are traditionally published. I dislike sitting around while my agent pitches my proposals. I can keep working while I wait and it’s a good distraction. Any novella I write could be new material for something to explore as a new series. (Word of caution – If you plan on using characters from a series under a published contract where you don’t have the copyrights back yet, be sure to read your terms to determine if you’re allowed to write a shorter length story with your original characters. Your sub-rights clause and other provisions may not allow you to do that.)

6.) DISCOUNTED PRICES – Some readers today have less time for reading (so shorter is better) and/or they may have budget concerns with all the books they read in a year.  A shorter story line, priced at a discount, might be what they are looking for. Amazon Kindle Worlds were created to be along the lines of fan fiction, but with more polish and better covers. Amazon sets the pricing, depending on length, but most of their novellas are 25,000 words priced at $1.99. An avid reader can buy a whole series easily.

Challenges of Writing a Shorter Story:

I have always been a novel writer. I never started out on shorter material, thinking it would be easier to write, as some people might believe. In my mind, a shorter story is more challenging. It’s only been this year that I’ve written shorter stories for Amazon Kindle Worlds. (See my OMEGA TEAM series at this LINK priced at $1.99 ebook) My novellas have been 25,000-30,000 words, at my option. That length forced me to change how I write, but I didn’t want my readers to feel that I’ve short-changed their reading experience because my voice or style has been stripped down.

Personal Challenges:

1.) Plots must be simpler – This has taken some new thinking and conceiving of plots in advance while I’m planning my story. More intense story lines with complex layers have to be shed in order to peel back to the essence of a story.

2.) Minimize subplots – Subplots can still be done, but they are more of a challenge, so I try to limit the way I think out a story.The subplot must be integral to the overall story and enhance the pace or suspense.

3.) Setting descriptions and prose must be simplified – Getting straight to the bare emotional elements of a scene or a story will stick with readers and provide them with a solid reading experience, without making them feel that the writing is too sparse. I must be truly selective on what images I choose and the wording I use to create the most impact.

4.) Novellas are like screenplays – My shorter stories are more like screenplays with a focus on dialogue and major plots movements, less on back story and lengthy internal monologue.

5.) Novellas are like the visuals of film – I like this aspect. Give the reader a visual experience as if they are watching a movie. The scenes must have memorable images to tap into their minds quicker, using fewer words to do it.

FOR DISCUSSION:

1.) What do you see as personal challenges to writing a shorter story? Is it easier for you to write a novel?

2.) How many books or projects do you write a year? How do you manage your between projects time?

 

Kim Haynes Photography

Kim Haynes Photography

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She also pens young-adult novels for Harlequin Teen. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs.

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What Does Bestseller Really Mean?

imagesA recent article (see link here) about the ease with which a reporter for the Observer uploaded a ‘book’ (which comprised, basically, a photograph of his foot) onto Amazon and became an instant ‘#1 bestseller’ – despite only selling three copies – got me thinking. It got me thinking, not just about the idea of scamming your way to bestsellerdom, but about the whole concept of being a ‘bestselling’ author and the kudos this  provides and implies.

Like any author, I would love to be able to claim such a title – although (perhaps not like every author) I only want to earn the title as a result of stellar book sales.  It seems, however, that through various manipulations (most often in how a book is categorized on Amazon) that the notion of being a ‘bestseller’ has become, well, let’s just say a little fuzzy. Now, this article does point out that they have always existed inherent biases within bestseller book lists and they have probably always been authors desperate enough to game the system (such as by buying their own books in bulk) in order to have the title ‘bestselling author’ bestowed upon them. However, the advent of Amazon and the plethora of ways an author can upload, market and sell their own ebooks seems to have increased the opportunities for gaming the system exponentially.

I don’t intend (in this blog post at least) to rake over all the ways and means authors manage to legitimately (or not) claim the ‘bestseller’ title but rather to consider what the word ‘bestselling’ means today (if, indeed, it means anything). As a reader, I can’t say I pay much attention to claims made to bestseller status on Amazon (especially now I now how easy it can be to claim such a title) – my eyes simply glaze over – and my decision whether to buy the book or not is far more dependent on reviews and recommendations than any ‘top selling’ status I might see on a website, book cover or author page. I do, however, take note of the bestseller lists in the NYT Book Review – to my mind this seems a better reflection of the popularity of any given book (even though I know the list probably has its own limitations). As a writer, becoming a NYT bestseller is also an obvious and much treasured goal…but, although I’d love to plop the word ‘bestselling author’ next to my name I wonder, given how many authors claim this (beyond the NYT list), how much meaning this term really has anymore.

So what about you – do you think the term ‘bestseller’ has lost a lot of its value through being bandied about so much? Do you pay any attention to Amazon’s designation of a book or author as a ‘bestseller’? As a writer, how do you view the issue? Do you think working the system is simply fair game (why not get the crown of bestseller any way you can?..) – or do you view the system as a broken one which holds little intrinsic value any more?  Which bestseller lists do you pay attention to as a writer, reader and book buyer?

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A New Series & Book Giveaway

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am very happy to have my dear friend, Desiree Holt, on TKZ. With over 200 books under her belt, USA Today called her “the Nora Roberts of erotic romance.” She’s a multi-award winner, critically acclaimed author of all things romance and action/adventure, and she has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning National TV Show (an amazing feature that had me giggling) and in The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, USA Today, The (London) Daily Mail, The New Delhi Times and numerous other national and international publications. She is a very generous person and always inspires me to keep the faith and the fun in my writing. I love her dearly and am proud to be a contributing author to her new Amazon Kindle Worlds series. A great combination of romantic suspense and action/adventure. She’s giving me the freedom to put my Jordan Dane spin on her Omega Team world and I’m having a blast! Take it away, Desiree.

Desiree Holt

Thanks so much for the opportunity to guest blog with you today.

My first love, both in reading and movies/television has always been suspense/action adventure. So when I finally discovered the lure of romance, it was a natural for me to combine everything. In recent times I had drifted slightly away from that but now I am back to romantic suspense/action adventure with a vengeance

I’ve had the opportunity to interview at length two men who definitely could be part of The Omega Team. When I lived in Texas they were, at different times, my firearms instructors, one a former Delta Force and one a former Force Recon Marine. They willingly gave of their time so I could get every detail of my stories exactly right. Any mistakes I have made as I wrote other series are truly my own. Their knowledge—and my copious notes—stood me in good stead as I attacked this new project.
I was very excited when Amazon invited me to create a World specifically for their Kindle Worlds. I love the essence of these stories and the men and women who are the silent heroes.

As I dug into creating the series, based around a private security agency, I realized just how valuable people like this can be. There are places where the government cannot take a role, where men and women have to operate in the shadows to successfully accomplish their mission and no word of it can leak. Every agent is either former military or formerly in some branch of the police, from local departments to the FBI.

The first three stories, laying the basis for this world—The Omega Team—have already been released to give people a taste of what is to come. The Kindle World of The Omega Team will officially launch February 16 with a select group of authors, including my special friend Jordan Dane.

So what is The Omega Team?

In this age of danger and conflict, when security is a high priority, a new entity is born. Whatever your needs, they will protect you. They are The Omega Team.

Grey Holden was raised to believe in honor and duty and the dedication of men to fighting evil. Both his father and grandfather taught him the tradition of the Omega Male, men who carry a resourcefulness, cunning and strength to get a job done with their own skill. They take great pride in what they do without it manifesting as “ego.” They differ from the typical Alpha Male who MUST absolutely be perceived by his peers as the toughest, most popular, and smartest. An Omega Male cares little for this recognition…but knows that he is all those things and more. It’s what made him a good soldier and what makes him a good security and covert agent. Athena Madero fits perfectly into his world. They meet when separately they are trying to prove that a wealthy and high profile political figure is actually The Snake, a shadowy arms dealer whose weapons armed the insurgents that Grey was fighting in Afghanistan.

They form The Omega Team, an agency that takes on even the most dangerous cases. They draw as members of the team former military such as Delta Force, SEALs, Force Recon Marines, Coast Guard, Night Stalkers and others, law enforcement and private security who have the same code of conduct and dedication they do. They will also work with similar agencies on joint ventures. Headquartered in Tampa, Florida, they accept assignments all over the world, no matter how dangerous.

They work in the shadows, riding the raw edge of danger. Their passion for their work is as hot as their passion for the men and women they love. When all else fails, they are there for you—The Omega Team.

And a little taste to tempt you for the first three books:

Romance Author Desiree Holt

Romance Author Desiree Holt

Raw Edge of Danger
Grey Holden was on a mission to find the source of illegal arms. The death of his best friend on a compromised mission left him filled with anger and dedicated to bringing down whoever was responsible. Athena Madero had her own mission, to take down a major politician who had been preying on young girls. She hated him enough to quit her job as a cop and go on her own hunt for evidence. When she and Grey crossed paths, chemistry sparked and suddenly, unexpectedly, shockingly, there was a lot more between them than searching for evidence and pinning down a traitor. In a split second, they were riding the raw edge of danger. Together.

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Mission Control
Krista (Kris) Gauthier and Mason Rowell are like oil and water from the moment they meet. He never expected the team from Mission Control, the security agency made up of former military, to send a woman to lead the team he hired to fix his problem: find out who is helping smugglers cross his land from the border. Their antagonism is only heightened by the sexual attraction that keeps blazing out of control. Neither of them is happy about the fact they keep falling into bed together and Mason, who values his unattached existence, can’t wait for the team to be finished and Kris to be gone. But when the bad guys are identified and caught and Kris is wounded in the process, the thought of losing her nearly destroys him, and makes him take another look at their relationship.

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Lethal Design
Someone is putting a kink in Shannon McRae’s very orderly life. The video games she designs aren’t about electronic battles or gory crimes. Her projects include team building exercises for executives. It’s bad enough she’s plagued by possessions moved out of place, flat tires, strangers following her at night. But most importantly, someone is messing with her current project, corrupting the file so she has to rework it over and over. When activities escalate, Athena Madero decides it’s a case for the top security and protection agency, The Omega Team, which she owns with her partner with Grey Holden. Owen Cormier has been isolated emotionally most of his adult life. Twelve years fighting wars haven’t made him warm and fuzzy. Then he discovers his new client is the one night stand he could never get out of his mind. When the case is over, will he just be able to walk away?

FOR DISCUSSION:

So what do you think of private security agencies? The subject has been debated every since they first appeared on the scene. Do you think they serve a useful purpose? If so, why?

GIVEAWAY: I hope you will leave a comment to enter. Winners will be picked randomly. First place winner will receive digital copies of all three books. Second place winner will receive an Omega Team coffee mug.

Desiree Holt Giveaway

Desiree Holt Giveaway

Desiree Holt
www.desireeholt.com
desireeholt@desireeholt.com

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