A Call To Arms…Er, Something

I have been incredibly lax about posting here lately, but October was a busy month for me and I anticipate November will be the same. For starters, last month Dark Tales: eVolume One was made free on Smashwords midway through the month and I saw an increased number of downloads for that ebook. It made me step back and take a look at my product more closely. I was getting decent downloads with an okay cover and vague blurbs – but what kind of numbers would I get if I switched out the cover for something professionally designed and posted better descriptions?

Well, I did both toward the end of the month and saw my downloads increase. Then, I took the stories I’d written last month and put them together in a second volume. I wanted to release that ebook collection on October 28 in time for Halloween, but found myself hitting all kinds of roadblocks on the way. Dark Tales: eVolume Two was released two days late instead and I was floored by the response. After two hours of it being live, the collection had tripled my usual daily download rate. And after linking volumes one and two together as a series on Smashwords, both eVolumes quickly surpassed Indie Spirit Press’s other title, Preppy Little Liars, in downloads. Yes, my ebooks are free so that might have something to do with it. And yes, the holiday was probably another big booster. But people were downloading Dark Tales: eVolume One long before Halloween so I don’t think that’s the only reason it’s doing well.

More importantly, my ebooks are now selling on Amazon when they weren’t before. My numbers aren’t huge at either retailer, but I’m seeing a steady increase in sales and downloads so that is a very nice feeling.

But you know what would be better? More downloads. More reviews. More word of mouth. And that’s where you lovely blog readers come in. I’ve been so grateful for the support you’ve all shown me every time I post an excerpt here or a free fiction story – it means a lot to get the comments and blog follows. Unfortunately, many readers won’t know this blog exists or that I exclusively post here so the feedback on this blog doesn’t reach them.

A lot of readers, when looking to purchase books for their ereaders and smartphones, still look for good, quality reviews to help determine if a book is worth their time or not. If I want to reach a wide range of readers (and I do), I need more downloads. I need more reviews. So my plea to those of you reading this post is this: if you’ve read any of the excerpts I’ve posted here for either volume of Dark Tales and enjoyed them, please head on over to Smashwords or Amazon and leave a review. If you haven’t read all of the pieces in either volume, you can still review, just be sure to note that you’re only commenting on the story you did read in your review. And if you’ve read my stuff and aren’t wild about it, still leave a review. I won’t know what needs improvement if none of my readers gives me quality feedback. I write for you guys – I want to know whether or not the stories are resonating with you.

Another thing I’m going to ask is for more downloads. Both volumes of Dark Tales are on Smashwords for free at the moment. I was going to price both at .99 to match Amazon starting November 1, but then decided against it. For one thing, most of you didn’t even know the first volume was free in the first place and I was too busy the day of the second volume’s release to announce it’s free status for the day. So I think I’ll leave both free throughout the month of November to give readers old and new a chance to sample me without investing a dime.

But book covers aren’t cheap (okay, mine kind of are, but that’s for a later post) and the more I write and release, the more those costs add up. Dark Tales: eVolume’s One and Two are on sale for .99 at Amazon as stated above. I think for a collection of short stories, that’s a very reasonable price. What I’m asking of you, dear reader, is if you’ve read my stuff and liked it, please consider downloading the paid copies from Amazon. I know not everyone has a Kindle, but the sales would go a long way in ensuring I can continue to purchase quality covers for the Dark Tales series and any other fiction I decide to publish through Indie Spirit Press.

I also ask that if you know people who love horror or thrillers or general crime fiction, please pass the links to my work along and encourage these readers to download and review. Tweet about the books, post links on your blogs, talk about them in your newsletters – whatever works best for you. And I’d be happy to return the favor for any writer who blurbs me or sends readers my way. Indie Spirit Press is all about writers helping writers whether they are indie published, traditionally published, or somewhere in between (gotta love those hybrids!). Think of all the good karma points you’ll receive if you help get my work out there 🙂

Last but not least, if you enjoy the stories posted here by either myself or Amber Turner and you feel the information about self-publishing here is of value, please consider using the donate button over on the sidebar of this blog. You can give as much, or as little, as you’d like. Every little bit helps when it comes time to hire good cover designers and the like. We strive to release good, professional quality content, but that takes a lot of money we don’t yet have. So anything given would be deeply appreciated – and we will look into giving some nice donor gifts to those who offer their support.

Thank you again to everyone who follows this blog and to everyone who reads (and comments on and/or favorites) the stories.

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Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers FREE On Smashwords until Nov. 1st!

Halloween is almost here and in honor of the holiday, Indie Spirit Press is making Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers FREE on Smashwords.

Dark Tales: eVolume One is a micro collection of short, dark stories. The collection includes three tales:

“When Daddy Comes Home”: When Opal Brown’s husband leaves her for another woman, she doesn’t get angry – she gets determined to keep her family together at all costs. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and Opal plans to make him a meal he’ll never forget.

“Child’s Play”: Maggie is worried about her five-year-old son after his father’s death. Max seems oddly detached from the tragedy and has invented a young friend named Edgar he talks to in secret in the middle of the night. Most kids his age have imaginary friends so Maggie tries not to be concerned – that is, until Max confides in her his young friend is actually an adult who comes to play with him when his mommy is sleeping.

and

“The Storyteller”: Elizabeth’s house has been on the market for weeks with no interest. One day, an old woman with a dead hand appears on her doorstep asking to see the place. As they tour the house, Elizabeth gradually becomes uncomfortable with the woman’s familiarity of both the house and of her since she’s never laid eyes on the old woman before in her life. Or has she?

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.*

Excerpt: Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers

amber cover noglow

                 WHEN DADDY COMES HOME

 

Opal Brown spit-shined the forks for that evening’s supper. She buffed out all the water stains with a crisp linen napkin. Her silverware needed to sparkle; dinner would be special.

Daddy was home. He’d been off living with some hot-butt trollop for three months. It didn’t last. He’d called that morning asking to come by and “see the girls.” Opal had told him to come around six.

He didn’t know she would make his favorites: pork loin, fried okra, and biscuits. She’d wanted to surprise him. She would put out the special dinnerware, not the cracked and discolored dishes they’d been used to. He’d get the plates and bowls with the silver trim finish – nothing but the best for him, see. She’d even do her hair up all fancy; dab on a little perfume. Just the way he liked.

Opal dressed the girls in their matching Sunday best even though it was a Tuesday.

They’d said they wanted to go live with Daddy, their lips poked out, wounded to be left behind. Opal had stroked their cheeks and said, “He’ll come back. He always do.”

She sat the girls one on either side of the table. Daddy sat at one end and Opal sat opposite.

The smell of peppery-lemon zest with an undertone of seared fat dripping in juices enveloped the room. Opal inhaled the aroma, satisfied. Dinner was done.

She donned her favorite oven mitts; the ones Daddy had given her on her birthday with little frosted cakes along the top, and took out the meat. She set the baking pan in the middle of the small table.

“Mmm,” she said. “Don’t that smell good, y’all?”

The girls and their Daddy stared at one another.

Opal pulled out her chair. She turned on her husband and winked. “Aren’t you glad you came back to us? The house just wasn’t the same without you, was it girls?”

She reached out and grasped one of each of her girls’ hands. The girls’ free hands rested inside their father’s open palms.

Opal wriggled in her chair to get comfortable.

“Now. Let’s all say grace.”

She bowed her head and thanked the Lord heavenly father for the meal they were about to receive, for each of her girls, but most of all, for the return of their daddy. Without him, there was no telling what Opal might do.

She ended her prayer with an “Amen”, then went around serving the food. When finished, she took her place back at the head of the table.

“I don’t want to boast you know, but I think this may be the best dinner I done made yet,” Opal said.

She smiled at her family. Their hands remained joined, but unfeeling; their full plates of food untouched; their eyes glazed over and unseeing.

She’d done good.

Opal stabbed up a forkful of moist meat and popped it in her mouth. She grinned.

Daddy was home. Just like she said he’d be. And that’s where they’d all stay.

Forever.

Get the full collection of Dark Tales NOW via Amazon and Smashwords.

Spotlight On Debut Novel:

Preppy Little Liars

by Amber Turner

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About the book: Meg Little desperately wants to be editor-in-chief of the Haverton Gazette. The former editor just resigned to complete a stint in rehab for a raging Adderall addiction and the competition for his replacement is fierce.

When Margaret Bean, Haverton Prep’s star equestrian, is bucked from her horse two weeks before regionals, Meg believes she may have found the story that will win her the coveted editorship. Margaret’s a gold medal-winning rider – she doesn’t make mistakes.

But the rest of the school buys her fall as an accident. Even the Gazette’s lead photographer and Meg’s best friend Stephen thinks the fall was innocuous – until Meg shows him a photo of Margaret’s horse sporting a cut saddle after Margaret’s fall. Clearly the “accident” was sabotage.

Meg’s prime suspect: Margaret’s teammate and Meg’s arch-nemesis Kitty Cooper. Kitty’s the only member of the team who was MIA after the fall and she’s acting way too shifty for Meg’s taste. Against Margaret’s wishes to let broken girls lie, Meg launches an investigation into the girls’ private lives convinced her amateur sleuthing will uncover the evidence needed to take down Kitty once and for all.

And if Meg happens to achieve journalistic glory in the process of defending Margaret’s honor, that’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make.

As regionals approaches and the investigation veers off in unexpected directions, Meg learns the students of Haverton are far more dangerous than their plaid skirts and blazers suggest – and all the little liars on Margaret’s team have something to hide.

Five Facts about the Author

Biggest Lie Ever Told: Hmmm…that’s a tough one. I’m a writer and an actress so lying comes pretty naturally to me [laughs]. It’s a requirement to do the job. The biggest lie I ever told was probably telling people in high school (and early on in college) that I wasn’t a virgin when I really was. I wanted to be “cool” for a while and being 18 and still having your V-card was not considered cool. I thought it made me all mysterious and badass to present myself as a man-eater on the prowl, but really, all it did was make me feel like a total poseur.

Fact was, being a geeky wallflower who’d rather sit in her living room reading books and watching movies on a Friday night instead of going to parties, and never so much as kissing a boy for real, let alone sleeping with one, was cool – because it was what I liked doing. Having standards isn’t a bad thing. Not following the crowd, whether that involved sex, drinking, or experimenting with drugs (the latter of which I never did either), and doing what appealed to me wasn’t a bad thing. I wish I had figured that out sooner and spared myself some embarrassment, but it was a great lesson learned.

I’m cool because I say so – that’s all the validation I need. I hope that same spirit comes through the characters of Meg and Stephen in Preppy Little Liars. They don’t follow trends, they do what they like, and they don’t really care what their peers think. I wish I had these kids’ confidence when I was their age. That’s partly why I wrote this novel – to write a much cooler version of my high school self.

Guilty Pleasures: Everything on the Starbucks menu. You should see my debit card statements – every other charge is from that crack den. There, and Chipotle. Non-food/beverage guilty pleasures? There are so many of them so I’ll try to be brief and only list the ones I’m typically really embarrassed to admit to liking:

  • Gossip Girl (TV show):  I own the first two seasons on DVD (my favorite seasons – I loved Chair!) and need to get the rest at some point. Sure, it was a terribly written teen soap, but Ed Westwick and Leighton Meester absolutely killed it in their respective roles as Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf. Their dysfunctional relationship was like something out of a twisted gothic novel – I couldn’t get enough. And the show as a whole was like a teen Gatsby in terms of the decadence and lushness of everything from the clothes (oh, how I wish I had Serena van der Woodsen’s wardrobe) to the lavish parties they were constantly attending. What I wouldn’t give to be in that world for five minutes!
  • Fanfiction: I’ve got to admit, I’ve spent way too much time reading and writing this stuff. I finally “came out” as a fanfic writer to my co-workers a few years back and it was the most freeing experience [laughs]. I don’t think most of them had a clue what fanfic was or why I spent hours upon hours researching songs for various musical scenes for my Glee fic, so that helped.

High School Journalism Horror Stories: Again, this is a topic where I have so many, I could write a book! One of the ones that stands out to me was the day we went to a journalism conference in Columbus and our bus broke down, leaving us stranded two hours from home in a cramped auto shop (we had to wait there while the bus was serviced) with no food or drink. For four hours.

The thing that made it so awful was that I didn’t like the majority of my colleagues. Imagine the people you dislike the most. Then, imagine being trapped somewhere with them, with no escape in sight, for four, flipping hours! Luckily, two of my friends were there to keep me from snapping whenever one of my fellow staff members said something mildly racist or just plain dumb (yeah, I went to that kind of school with those kind of people). It was a nightmare.

Biggest Inspirations: That’s hard. Most of my inspirations tend to be famous people. Someone like Prince, for example: this is a guy who dressed in women’s underwear, high heels, and sang rock music in Minneapolis when other black musicians just weren’t doing that. But he didn’t care if he got booed off stages. He played the music he wanted to play and dressed the way he wanted to dress no matter what anyone had to say. He frequently changes up his look and sound – he’s a real trailblazer, and an incredible artist, and he inspired me to make music from a very early age. If I ever met him in real life, I think I’d have a heart attack on the spot. That dude is just too cool. There’s no one like him; he’s an original.

Stephen King is another inspiration. I started reading his novels when I was four so he was the first real storyteller I can remember reading and loving. The way he can craft a plot and draw a character is like no one else working in genre fiction today. I wish I could be half the storyteller he is – I haven’t liked every story he’s done, but he has written some truly captivating stuff that I could re-read again and again.

And I had some great English teachers who encouraged my writing from a young age. I remember my second grade teacher, Ms. Parkinson, sat me on her lap one day and told me I had a wonderful imagination and that I should be a writer when I grew up. Every single teacher I had after that said the same thing. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Huggins, had me write a play for our class to perform, and my Honors English teacher my senior year of high school told me she fully expected to see my name on bookstore shelves one day. (In about ten years’ time, people will be reading this going, “Bookstores? What’s a bookstore?!”)

But my favorite English and writing teachers I had were the ones I worked with in college. He might not be thrilled to hear this, and I don’t know if he still works at Drexel or not, but Professor Stein was the inspiration for the Mr. Murphy character in Preppy Little Liars. Although I hasten to add, Professor Stein is a much better person than my character! [laughs] Seriously, he was one of the coolest people I had the pleasure to know and one of the funniest, too.

On the Self-Publishing Decision: There are many reasons why I chose to go this route. Like most writers, I dreamed of clinching a traditional New York City publishing contract. I think last year, I even made the incredibly embarrassing statement over on the NaNoWriMo forums that self-publishing would be my last resort for if/when I couldn’t snag an agent.

Boy, have times (and opinions) changed. It may surprise some people, but I didn’t even attempt to go traditional with Preppy Little Liars, or with any other novel for that matter. I finished my first novel, a supernatural suspense, last December and thought I’d spend the majority of 2013 editing the hell out of it to get it into publishing shape. I was then going to shop it around to agents and do the whole traditional song and dance.

But then I read author Dean Wesley Smith’s blog series called “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing,” where he broke down the economics of being a traditionally published author v. going it alone. I realized, from an economic standpoint, I’d probably do much better as a self-pubbed author than as a mid-list author at a major publishing house. I had no illusions that my supernatural suspense novel was going to be a huge blockbuster – those stories are much rarer than you think – and if I was only going to be making pennies on a dime for my work, I thought, why not just produce it myself and cut out the middle man? Why pay an agent 15% of a miniscule advance and why let a publishing house take 80% of a modest royalty?

It just didn’t seem smart to me on a business level.

Then, my overtime hours at my day job were cut, I got really sick and had a ton of medical bills I wasn’t going to be able to pay roll in and everything seemed to be spiraling out of control. And for someone like me who needs to be in control of things 24/7, this was terrifying. But I said to myself, “You’re a writer – write,” and decided that that was how I was going to help myself get out of financial trouble. The idea for the Meg Little series came to me and the rest is history.

The first draft of PLL was written in 19 days and the response I received from five different beta readers was overwhelming – they loved it. I thought for sure some people wouldn’t get it, but the feedback I’ve gotten has been more along the lines of, “How fast can you write book two and get it to me? I need to read it now!” So that definitely strengthened my resolve to self-pub. I can get my work out to my readers on my schedule and I don’t have to worry about someone dictating to me what I can or can not write. It’s a good feeling. And I’m pumped for book two!

Preppy Little Liars is tentatively slated for release June 21st in print via Amazon’s CreateSpace. E-book versions will be available shortly after the print release. Stay tuned for more info!