New Release Wednesday: Grindhouse by Elle Chambers

Grindhouse1

Warning: This triple feature contains graphic violence, strong language, sexual content, and extreme bloodshed. This is not for the mild-mannered. If you have any emotional triggers that can cause severe mental disturbance – Grindhouse is not for you. All others – read at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

Grindhouse is a short story collection featuring three disturbing tales:

“Little Girl, I Want To Murder You”: A young paralegal, on the way to the interview of her life, takes the cab ride from hell.

“Deviltown”: A pre-op trans hooker, looking to perform her last great trick, is in for a treat when she goes home with a stranger.

and “The Beautiful People”: High school is hell for awkward teenage girls. And payback is a bitch for the ones who’ve done wrong.

Get your copy on Smashwords today.

ETA: Grindhouse is now $0.99 on Amazon!

Excerpt from Grindhouse by Elle Chambers: “The Beautiful People”

Jessie glanced down at her fingers as if seeing them for the first time. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open, but no sound came out. She pressed her lips together and wrung her hands.

“I know what you think. But it’s not what you think.” She stared at Detective Gross with a pitiful expression of fear. “She’s come back for us. She’s going to get even.”

Detective Gross sighed, leaning back in his chair. He pinched the bridge of his nose. This was another reason he avoided long talks with his daughter-teenagers had the uncanny ability to talk in circles, a skill he’d never quite mastered himself when he was their age. He’d always been a straight-shooter-he didn’t evade; he was clear and, most importantly, direct. This girl was anything but, however, and he silently prayed for patience before continuing his questioning.

“What is Morgan trying to get even for?”

Jessie’s watering eyes finally spilled over and she swiped at the errant tears. “For everything we did to her.” She leaned back in her seat and tugged at her shirt sleeves again.

“It started when she first came here three months ago. She was quiet, and she didn’t dress well, so that instantly made her a target. The guys made fun of her and said she looked homeless, and the girls were just as bad. No, they were worse. They used to pull awful pranks on her.”

“Like what?”

Jessie rolled her eyes. “There was this one time she wore white pants to school. I don’t know where she got ‘em from ‘cause nobody I know has white pants. They looked a little old even, like, flare leg jeans. And nobody wears those either. Anyway, the girls took a handful of ketchup packets out of the lunch room and put them on her seat in Government. She sat down and the packets burst, and everyone was laughing because you could hear the squish, and when she stood up there was this huge brownish spot on her pants so it looked like she’d had her period or shit herself.”

Her eyes widened and her hand flew up to her mouth. “Sorry. I meant ‘pooped.’”

Detective Gross waved her off. “Doesn’t matter. These pranks-they were always like that?”

Jessie nodded vigorously. “She cried after the ketchup incident. She ran out of the room while everyone was laughing and didn’t come back to class for three days.”

“Did you laugh?”

Her cheeks reddened and she lowered her gaze. “At first. It was funny, you know?”

He didn’t, actually. He’d been a Morgan in high school himself so he wouldn’t find that kind of adolescent “humor” all that amusing. To each their own though.

Jessie pulled her turtleneck up around her throat, shivering.

“Are you cold?” He didn’t think it was chilly in the room; in fact, he felt his underarms dampen, but he was also heavier than the tiny girl. It was possible she was still feeling the effects of the night air from when she was brought in the station. Nerves may have had something to do with it, too.

The girl shook her head. “I’m fine.” She stared back down at the table, not meeting the detective’s gaze.

“I told Brooke about the ketchup incident one day after school, trying to make conversation. Of course Lassie laughed, but Brooke didn’t. I was shocked because that seemed like something she’d find hilarious. But she tossed her hair over her shoulder and said something like, ‘We should talk to her. Invite her to lunch.’ Lassie stopped laughing then. If we were seen with Morgan, it’d be like social suicide.”

Detective Gross looked up from his writing. “Why?”

“Because Morgan was lame. The way she dressed-she looked Amish. Seriously, it was embarrassing. Her hair was never combed, it looked like a bird’s nest most days. And she was a nerd. Always had her head stuck in a book. She was poor. She lived over on Peach Street in the broken down house next to Mrs. Landingham. No one cool lives in that neighborhood.

“But nevertheless, Brooke had me invite her to lunch. She asked me to do it because we had a few classes together. I didn’t really mind Morgan, but something didn’t sit right with me about this.”

“So why do it?”

Jessie shrugged. “We always did what Brooke said. If you wanted to be ‘in’, you had no choice.”

“Brooke was the Queen Bee then.”

Jessie’s brow creased and Detective Gross shrugged. “My kid watches those Gossipy Little Liars shows. I know the lingo.”

“Sure.”

Detective Gross noted Jessie’s sudden silence. She bit her lower lip and stared past him at the wall.

“When I asked Morgan to lunch, she was so happy. She wasn’t blabbering about it or anything, but you could just tell by the way her eyes lit up that she was psyched. She didn’t have any friends. People don’t go out of their way to befriend newbies.”

“You took her to lunch-then what happened?”

Jessie folded her arms across her chest. “She sat with us and it was fine. The first day. Brooke was nice-for her-and Lassie…she made passive-aggressive comments here and there, but Brooke shut her down every time. The next day, Brooke barely spoke to Morgan. Lassie ignored her too and I was stuck having to talk to her. It was so awkward. We didn’t have anything to talk about. She tried talking to me about some dead Russian writer, but I don’t read that kind of stuff so there were these long moments of silence.”

The detective noted their own moment of silence with mild amusement. Jessie had stopped talking again and it was just like being in a room with his own daughter. He never really knew what to say to her. And when emotions were high, like they were with Jessie now, he definitely didn’t have a clue how to behave.

Jessie shivered again and Detective Gross stood. He needed to do something besides sit there looking like a brain-dead idiot.

“Would you like some coffee?” he asked. “It’s not very good, but it’ll keep you warm.”

“No, thanks.” Jessie wrapped her arms around her middle. She stared up at the detective. “I’m ready to tell you what happened.”

Detective Gross nodded and sat back down. He raised his pen, poised to take her statement.

Jessie cleared her throat. “Things didn’t get bad until about a week or two later. Brooke and Lassie got bored with being fake-nice and decided to revert to form. They’d invite Morgan to lunch with us or to walk home with us after school and they’d make catty ass comments the whole way. You could tell Morgan was uncomfortable, but she wasn’t the type to defend herself. They made fun of her hair and her clothes and the way she talked-she had a slight stutter. Why she kept hanging with us, I don’t know. They were awful to her. I would have stopped coming around if it was me.”

“Okay, so the girls made smart-aleck comments from time to time. Do you really believe that’s enough for a girl to want to kill someone?”

Jessie’s face turned stony. She looked the detective in the eye. “Obviously you’ve never been a teen girl.”

Before You Self Publish….

Research the indie market. Go on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Study the covers of the books in the genre you write in and take notes on font use, kerning, color, imagery, aspect ratio, and titles. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the cover well designed or does it look DIY? If it does look less the professional, what changes could be made to make it better? Does this cover make me want to read the blurb or sample pages? Why or why not? If you read the blurb, does the cover adequately convey what the book is about? Then do the same thing with the blurb. Read it and then ask yourself: Is the blurb compelling? Do I want to read more? Do I care about the story being presented? Why or why not? Also, take a look at the prices of these books so you can get a feel for what other indies are charging for similar products. You don’t want to lowball yourself, but you also don’t want to set the price so high that no one will buy it, either.

Once you’re done researching the indie market, research the traditional market. Go back to the aforementioned distributor’s websites and study the covers, blurbs, and prices of traditionally published books in your genre. Ask yourself: Can my cover sit next to these covers on a virtual bookshelf and be virtually unrecognizable as a self-published novel? Is my blurb as enticing as the ones written by a professional sales team or could it use some work? Is my price too high or can it be lowered and still compete with other reasonably priced ebooks?

You don’t have to know all of these things ahead of time, but it will save you some time in the long run if you’re aware of what’s out there and what the public is buying. Pay attention to keywords and metadata while you’re at it (this is something I’m still working on myself and trying to get right – maybe with the next book?).

Make a business plan. We’d all like to be overnight success stories, but for many of us, that won’t happen. So think about where you want to be in five to ten years and plan for that. Make a budget for each book and/or short story that you plan to publish and try to stick to that budget if you can. Then figure out what you would like to be making per hour as a writer (this will be different for everyone) and calculate how many books/short stories/nonfiction articles/whatever you need to write and sell to make that money. Figure out how much money you’ll spend each year (and again, this will vary depending on each individual’s production schedule) and how long you have to write to break even, and then turn a profit.

I also can’t stress enough: plan for emergencies. My planned production schedule for 2013 was cut down from three complete novels and some short stories to one novel  and short stories because I wound up getting slammed with medical bills for a then undiagnosed stomach issue (I’ve since discovered I have celiac disease and a lactose intolerance) – I couldn’t afford to buy three covers, pay for editing, etc. Things happen sometimes and you have to have a backup plan (and a cash cushion) for when they do. You don’t want to derail your momentum.

Build a readership. A blog isn’t enough. From my own experience, I can tell you that 90% of the people who read this site aren’t average readers – they’re writers. And while I appreciate the eyeballs, other writers aren’t likely to buy (and read) my book. Same thing with Twitter. Most of the people who follow the @indie_spirit account are writers. 99% of my daily feed are tweets from those writers hawking their own novels. How likely is it that any of those people are going to see similar tweets from me about my book or Elle’s micro fiction collections (she has another one due out at the end of the month) and go purchase them?

Not very. Writers need to go where the actual readers are. There are many places online that people can post their complete stories or works in progress like FictionPress or Wattpad. There are online magazines and anthologies looking for everything from flash fiction to serials. If you prefer to venture outside of the interwebs for an audience (or if you want to do it in conjunction with online writing), there are many reputable short story markets you can send your work to. Wait times vary as does pay – some publications pay up to $700 for an accepted piece, others don’t pay at all or they only pay in contributors copies, but writers license their work with these pubs anyway for the increased visibility. Whatever avenue best meshes with your long-term plans is the one you should take.

Blogs aren’t completely useless either. They can reach readers if the writer in question does more than self-promote 24/7. Releasing free fiction on your site is a good way to get a following started, posting excerpts from published novels, maybe even doing an exclusive serialization will make your blog an attractive destination for non-writing readers. Experiment – see what works best for you. The more eyes you can get on your work prior to self-pubbing your own books, the better your novels will do sales wise. Do you need to have ten thousand Twitter followers to get on a bestseller list or have decent sales? Not really, but it doesn’t hurt. People are creatures of habit and comfort – we tend to seek out things that are familiar to us. If we already know an author and like her work because said author posts free stories on her blog every week, we’re more likely to read something else she puts out later on and may even pay for it!

Finally, read more. And more importantly, read books in the genre you plan to write in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across writers who’ve said they either don’t read at all or they don’t read in the genre they’re writing in. My mind boggles every time I hear that. How in the world can you expect to understand narrative structure if you don’t read? And if you’re writing genre fiction that relies on tropes to work, if you don’t read the genre, how will you know what they are and whether you’re doing anything new or interesting with them? You don’t have to read five hundred books a year to be a writer, but you do have to read something. The more you read, the more ingrained in your brain the storytelling process will become and that will ultimately make your writing cleaner, clearer, and easier.

*Please note that all points above are opinions based off my own (admittedly brief) experience as a self-published author. Feel free to ignore the points you don’t agree with. Publishing is not one size fits all and there are certain things that will work wonders for one writer and fail horribly with another. Use your best judgment when seeking advice or help of any kind.*

Question Corner: How to Become Your Own Publisher

Dear Indie Spirit Press: 

I’ve just finished my first novel after years of writing short fiction and I’m not sure whether I want to send the manuscript out to agents. In fact, I’ve been reading some blogs that have suggested self-publishing may be the way of the future and so I’m thinking of bypassing a traditional publisher altogether. Can you tell me how much it costs to become your own publisher and to produce your own books?

– Newbie Ned

First of all, congratulations on completing your first novel! That’s very exciting. No matter what you ultimately decide to do with it, celebrate the fact that you did something many people dream of doing and never manage to accomplish.

Now – this question is very complex because the truth is, it’s different for everyone. Some people can indie publish and spend little to no money and others have to, or choose to, spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get their work out to readers. We’re going to talk about the different steps of self-pubbing and the many ways you can try to make this cost effective if self-publishing is the avenue you choose to take with your manuscript.

1.       Find some good first readers to critique your manuscript. This is extremely important as you need to know before you put out any money to publish whether or not this manuscript is publishable. What we mean by that is, does the story work on a base level? If it doesn’t, you will need to find a way to rework the draft so it does. Readers will forgive spelling errors and grammatical slips if the story behind these mistakes is a good one. If the story is severely flawed or flat out nonsensical, readers will be less forgiving. You want to make the first best impression on readers you can so get some betas, preferably people who know your genre well, and find out where your story falls apart (if it does at all).

2.       Research distributors. Not all self-publishing outfits are created equal. Some are so expensive they might as well be vanity publishers, which is a means of distribution you want to avoid at all costs if you want to be taken seriously as an author and have a career. The biggest print distributor of self-published works at the moment appears to be Amazon’s CreateSpace. Lulu was pretty popular for a while, but we haven’t heard much from indie authors on them, good or bad, for quite some time.

Anyway, there are also outfits like BookBaby that state they will do everything from cover design to marketing for the self-published author so the author doesn’t have to. Personally, we don’t recommend these types of distributors because a lot of the things they charge authors for, like formatting, are things the author can learn to do himself if he takes the time to learn the functions of Microsoft Word.  Our philosophy is that the indie author should try to keep costs to a minimum, especially if the author intends to publish more than one book a year, and do as much as you can on your own. We don’t even recommend using CreateSpace’s design or marketing services, assuming you choose to go with them as a distributor, because most of their additional services are ridiculously overpriced.

However, CreateSpace is free for authors to use. Yes, that’s right – free. If all you want is your print novel in Amazon’s online catalog and your own separate e-store to sell books, all you have to do is upload your manuscript to CreateSpace, fix any formatting errors their system may find, proof your final document and press publish. You will now have standard distribution of your work through Amazon for free. If you would like to see your print book in other online retail stores such as Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or The Book Depository, CreateSpace charges you a fee of $25 per title. Cheap, right? It’s a pretty good deal if you ask us.

If you are asked to spend more than this for trade paperback books from a self-publishing unit, we would strongly advise you to reconsider. You are the author – money should be flowing to you, not away from you. And run (don’t walk) away from any company claiming to help you self-publish and distribute your books in exchange for rights to your work. Self-publishing means all rights remain with you the author, NOT the distributor.

3.       Hire help. Now, if you decide to self-publish but you know that you don’t have the time to edit, format, design, and do layout all on your own, you can always farm out this work to a professional. But like we said above – you want to do this in the most cost effective way possible. Most first novels will not earn back the money spent on them right away so never put out more money than you’re willing to lose. With that said, there are some very talented freelance editors, designers, formatters, and public relations gurus out there looking for work.

Take the time to make a budget of how much you want to spend producing your novel, then get online and check out other indie published books. When you see covers you really like, check the credits or the front matter of the book to see if a designer/illustrator is listed. If so, Google that person and try to find an online portfolio of their work (many graphic designers will have this available on their own sites). Make a list of your top designers, then ask the authors they’ve worked with for references. You want to know how fast this person is, how much they cost, how willing they are to listen to ideas and how well they take direction, how many cover choices will you get to choose from, what their refund policies are, etc.  Then once you’ve figured that out, do the same thing for editors, formatters, etc.  

If you can do any of these things listed above yourself, do it. We know there are writers out there who are also graphic designers by trade or work as editors or copy writers. Think about what you can reasonably accomplish on your own given your time constraints and then make sure your skills are at a professional level before you proceed. You want your final product to be able to stand next to traditionally published novels.  If you’ve only been playing around with Photoshop for a week, you may want to have someone else step in and help you with your cover design.

Good freelance designers can be found online for as little as $20 or $40 and if you write YA, chick lit, or mysteries, we highly recommend you contact designer Allison Marie for help. She charges $60/hour for cover design, works fast (she finished the Preppy Little Liars cover in a few hours), and also designs other author must haves like Web site graphics, bookmarks, and business cards.

As far as editing goes, we’ve said it before and will say it again: if an editorial service is asking you to pay two cents a word or more for basic line editing, run in the opposite direction. Unless the editor in question has edited multiple New York Times bestsellers and has worked with traditional publishing companies, they have no business charging those prices to independent authors for their services. Do the math: if you have a 60,000 word manuscript and you’re being charged two cents per word, you’re looking at over a thousand dollars for one book. Now, if you have a substantial savings account, a rich spouse, or a trust fund, that price might not seem so outrageous to you.

But if you don’t have those things and your budget per project is modest, we suggest you get creative about having your manuscript edited. For example, if your local newspaper or magazine has a copy editor and proofreader (or someone who does both), why not reach out to the editor and ask if he wouldn’t mind looking over your work for a small fee? Then offer to pay him a reasonable wage that is within your budget. The worst that can happen is he says no. If that happens, there are free critique sites like Critique Circle where you can put your novel up, chapter by chapter, and get edits from fellow writers. And if you’re willing to pay a small fee, Critique Circle will allow you to have your own private reading queue where you can invite a select group of people to read your WIP without the general CC audience being able to see it.

As you can see, Newbie, there are many things you have to consider if you decide to go the self-publishing route (and this post didn’t even cover half of it!). But if you’re smart, and willing to put in some legwork, self-publishing your novel doesn’t have to be expensive. Amber Turner’s first novel Preppy Little Liars only cost $210 to produce – that is $150 for the cover, $25 for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution, and $35 for her copyright. We spent a whopping zero dollars producing Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers. Her cover was designed by a writer/artist friend in exchange for future editing services and a photo credit.

If you want to learn more about self-publishing, we recommend you check out Dean Wesley Smith’s site for more in-depth information. Happy reading and good luck!