Time machines really don’t cost that much

In 1960, one of my favorite movies was “The Time Machine” based on H. G. Wells’ novel. Perhaps it was the slight crush I had on Yvette Mimieux (unrequited love) or perhaps it was my attunement with old legends about time travel, but the film remains a favorite even though it’s very dated by now.

Now we’re learning more and more about how astronomers’ observations are verifying Einstein’s theories of space/time. My focus on time is more mystic and speculative than science, but I have always thought that one day we would figure out how to do it without breaking Star Trek’s Temporal Prime Directive that prohibits interfering with cultures in a time frame earlier than our own.

For now, though, I’m content to use my imagination as a time machine when I write as well as when I read. My work in progress is set in 1955. Whether it’s the writing or the ongoing research of the period, I feel like I’m bouncing back and forth between 2020 and the 1950s. I feel the same way when I read whether it’s Southern Gothic, which I like a lot, or mainstream historical novels.

I believe in past lives, though I do think they’re occurring simultaneously with our current lives and “future” lives. Aside from that, books do have a powerful ability to transport us to other times and places. How easy it is to fall under the spell of a book or film set in another time and (while reading/viewing) take everything we see and hear as a reality we want to experience.

Do you feel this way when you read? Do you suddenly “see” a period in our nation’s past (or some other nation’s past) as more real than you did before you began the novel? I usually do. It’s almost like magic.

Malcolm

 

Review: ‘The Ten Thousand Doors of January,” by Alix E. Harrow

On July 26, 2018, Alix E. Harrow–an award-winning author of short fiction, posted a blog entry called “Holy Cats, I sold my book” in which she called the pending publication: “Big, life-altering, universe-skewing, time-space-continuum-wrecking news.”

Her reaction also describes the book, a mix of magical realism and fantasy, with a delightful plot that bends time and space in upon themselves as–quite possibly–an illustration of the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics. Fortunately, you don’t need to know anything about quantum theory to follow the story.

What you do need is a wide-open, non-judgemental imagination because this story is quite a unique trip. No doubt, Harrow used that kind of imagination to write the book, to follow the world-leaping exploits of her main character January Scaller who learns–while looking for her parents and running from the bad guys–how to travel between worlds as easily as walking from here to there and (with luck) back again.

Her plotting, language, and tone are among the best I’ve seen through ten thousand hours of reading every book I could get my hands on. Each of those books was a door into a new world, a fact you’ll believe more firmly than ever by the time you finish “The Ten Thousand Doors of January.” In fact, you’re more likely than ever to discover new worlds after reading this beautiful (and beautifully written) debut novel.

It’s a big, life-altering, universe-skewing, time-space-continuum-wrecking novel.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and stories.

If I Buy One Wrench, Should the Rest of the Set Be Free?

Look at this fine set of Craftsman Wrenches available at Ace Hardware. Now, using many online book buyers’ expectations, I should be able to walk into the hardware store, buy the ¾” wrench and get the rest of the set for free. This is the online mindset publishers and writers face these days.

This mindset is probably behind the fact that Audible wants to add closed captions to audiobooks without compensating the authors and publishers. Our agreements with Audible call for them to make available an audio copy of our books, a copy we must pay a professional narrator to produce.

Now, major publishers are suing Audible for copyright infringement, and well the should, for none of us–large and small publishers–have granted Audible the rights to a print version of the text. Many of us think that publishers should have an opt-in/opt-out choice. If we opt-in, Audible pays for essentially distributing a print and an audio version of the book.

Audible claims the captions will help the deaf and the hard of hearing. I don’t doubt it because I rely on closed-captioning to watch TV shows. But Audible cannot expect to offer the service without paying those who created the material.

Many readers will probably side with Audible because they think when you buy one edition, all the other editions of the book should be available at no charge. Well, for one thing, paperback and hardcover books don’t cost the same to produce, so I can’t imagine a publisher throwing in a free hardcover edition for everyone who bought the e-book or the paperback. All of these editions (e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook) are not produced by a giant computer on demand. Each one has been created separately by the publisher or self-published author.

  • The formatting and cover requirements for e-books and physical books are different.
  • If you add a paperback edition, you need a high-res image for the printing, back-cover art, and you must consider how thick the book will be, based on the number of pages, in order to properly format the front cover/spine/back cover.
  • If you add a hardback edition, usually printed by a separate company for small presses, you also have to consider the dimensions of the dustjacket and what will be printed on the front and back flaps.
  • If you add an audiobook, you have to find a producer/narrator whom you can afford–or contract for a royalty/share provision–and then work with them to make sure they have pronunciations and ambience right. My Florida Folk Magic Series wasn’t easy for narrators because it had phrases in African American dialect and North Florida’s dialect. So, pronunciation lists must be compiled and every file must be listened to before it’s approved for publication.

Publisher expenses, actual or work hours, are incurred to produce every edition of every book. So, I side with the authors, printers, narrators, and editors who feel discounted when buyers say they are entitled to a free copy of every edition after buying one copy of one edition.

Right. Just try that nonsense with the people at Craftsman or Ace Hardware and see how it works out. Or, walk into an expensive restaurant and ask if buying an appetizer entitles you to an entire meal (Including cocktails and wine) at no extra charge.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of a whole bunch of stuff.

 

Creating ARC Copies: A How-To

Once upon a time, Publisher’s Weekly asked for a review copy of a children’s book our small press had in the works. We were new to the business then and had no clue how to accommodate them, so we lost the opportunity for a high-profile review. Ouch! Now that I know better, I won’t make the same mistake again. Better still, I’ll share what I’ve learned so you won’t, either.

Source: Creating ARC Copies: A How-To | Celebrating Independent Authors

I saw a post by author Hope Clark in which she said that she buys copies of her books and sends them out to her favorite readers prior to publication so that then her books go live, there’s a batch of reviews ready to go. (She’s at a mid-seized publisher and buys the books at cost because many publishers don’t send out review copies any more.)

For the same reason, think about creating advance reader copies (ARCs) of your books so that you can send them to review sites before your books are published. In fact, major review sites won’t look at a book after its publication date; many of them expect a copy four months in advance.

You may not get in Kirkus or Book List, but it’s worth the time an effort, I think, to try. This post at Indies Unlimited takes you through the basics. Reviews early on in a book’s life not only draw more readers but improve how your book is displayed on sites like Amazon or in book newsletters.

Malcolm

 

Review: ‘Redemption Road’ by John Hart

Redemption RoadRedemption Road by John Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s enough darkness in this book to cause an eclipse of the sun soon after you begin reading. Elizabeth, the protagonist is a good cop with a good heart that is filled with life-affirming love and infinite grit. Her past was cruel to her and it’s neither gone nor forgotten.

Her story in this thriller will carry you through the darkness stemming from multiple characters whose self-righteous evil is as unflinching as Elizabeth’s heart. Thirteen years prior to the beginning of the novel, a policeman was convicted of killing a young woman and leaving her body on the altar of the church where Elizabeth’s father preaches. Elizabeth, who was a rookie cop at the time thought he was wrongly convicted. As a cop, he has a hard time surviving prison. When he gets out, the killings start again with the same MO. This appears to prove that everyone else on the police force is right about him and that Elizabeth is naive.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is having her own troubles with the authorities over a case she’s involved in. The plot is complex and well constructed, the writing is superb, and the characters have more dimensions, secrets, and agonies than you can shake a stick at. At all times, the notion of a redemption road out of this chaos seems to many as an unlikely nirvana or simply a dead end.

The story is adeptly told and highly recommended.

–Malcolm

View all my reviews

My granddaughters will have to wait a while for my ghost story book

My granddaughters are 11 and 6 years old, so I thought it would be cool to dedicate my new collection of stories (Widely Scattered Ghosts) to them so that when they are in their 50s they can take a copy to Antiques Road Show and learn that the book–at auction–is then worth $1000000000000.

This haunted Florida bridge is the setting for one of the stories.

They live in Maryland, so I’m going to mail the book. But I can’t address it to them because they love getting things in the mail, especially packages. But they’re way too young to read any of the stories. Even though none of the stories are the Stephen King variety, Freya and Beatrice will need to wait until they’re teenagers (I guess) before they get to see the book.

So, the mail is going to my daughter with instructions to hide the book and to remember where she hid it. My father was an author. I always thought it was neat to have copies of some of his books autographed for me. Maybe the girls will feel the same way even though I’m no James Patterson or John Grisham.

Four of the stories are about an inquisitive and highly intelligent teenager named Emily who talks to ghosts. She reminds me of my daughter (except for the talks-to-ghosts part). As a grandfather, I get to brag and say that I think my granddaughters will grow up to be smarter than Stephen Hawking.

That makes me wonder if they’ll correctly guess the endings to each of the stories before they get there.

Malcolm

 

 

A Few Creative Book Marketing Ideas

“I was talking with a class that I was teaching this past week about marketing strategies and realized we haven’t had a marketing post in a while. Twitter and Facebook are what I think of as old marketing standbys, but there are other, more creative ways to market. Of course, as the kids say, YMMV (your mileage may vary) with all of them. Below is a summary of what we discussed.”

Source: Creative Book Marketing Ideas – Indies Unlimited

As an author, I like reading posts about book marketing because there’s usually something new to me in each one. Plus, times change, and what worked five years ago may not be quite as effective now. Melinda Clayton is a publisher and a university teacher, so she sees more of what works and what doesn’t work than most of us.

She also includes links to other articles for writers at Indies Unlimited.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena.”

Paperbacks make great stocking stuffers

My wife an I are giving up on stocking stuffers this year because we seem to have an over-supply of stocking stuffers left over from past years. So, we said to hell with buying more Chapstick, Pears Soap, and Tic Tacs.

We do give each other books as Christmas gifts, but usually from a Christmas list rather than intuition. I read 10000000 books a year and that makes it hard for my wife to give me something I haven’t read. She reads fewer books and sticks to a group of authors she likes. Neither of us feels confident enough to buy each other a book unless we know (from a Christmas list) what we both really want.

Since some of my novels are available in paperback, I’m biased when I suggest that paperbacks make great gifts. Better yet, when you give them as stocking stuffers, you don’t have to wrap them. That’s a plus for me. While my wife can wrap gifts better than the gift-wrapping lady at the mall, the gifts I wrap guarantee that people will think I was sipping moonshine while I wrapped them.

When either of us splurged on a stocking stuffer, we’d put a gift card on it saying it was from Santa. No harm, no foul. Or, when we gave candy, we made sure there was enough of it to share. But as the years went by, all the old, utilitarian stocking stuffers didn’t work anymore because we each tended to buy them whenever we ran out. And, over time, we both realized that those gifty books sold in the front of the Barnes & Noble stores didn’t really work because nobody ever read them anyway.

As it turns out, each one of us has a storage locker in the garage with one thousand tubes of Chapstick, several hundred Snickers bars, enough Scotch tape for all of Google’s offices, rolls of Kodak film that we wouldn’t know where to get developed even if we were still using our old Honeywell cameras, shoelaces for an army, enough Q-tips to scare all those ear doctors who say, “don’t stick these things in your ears,” and fruitcake that’s been passed from one family to another since Herbert Hoover was President.

So, we agreed on the “no more stocking stuffers” plan. We don’t have a fireplace in this house, so we don’t hang stockings anyhow. They sort of degenerated over time into grocery sacks of stuff.

However, those of you who are steadfastly maintaining the old ways–that is, stocking stuffers–can switch over from office supply store nicknacks (extra pens and boxes of staples) and drugstore nicknacks (toothbrushes and Hall’s cough drops) to paperback books. Forget Kindles and Nooks and get the real thing! Avoid Amazon if you can and go to your local bookstore where real people are trying to earn a living by curating books that your loved ones will really appreciate.

Before you go to the bookstore, you need to break into your loved ones’ rooms and see what’s already there. Steal their Kindles and Nooks for an hour or so and make sure you don’t duplicate what they are reading on their screens, poor bastards. Years ago, we used the word “grok” to imply that we understood somebody or something. If you grok your loved ones, you can pick out books they’re most likely to enjoy.

If they don’t enjoy them, they’ll love you for trying your best even if you have to remind them that it’s the thought that counts.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of stocking stuffers named “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Lena,” and “Sarabande.”

 

 

 

 

That Elusive Writer’s Platform

Big name writers have writing platforms called the big name writer’s platform.

When James Patterson comes out with a new book, you know who he is and what kinds of stories he tells, so he doesn’t need to go on blog tours or work in a hardware store to stay solvent.

If your name is Joe Doaks, are 43 years old, and live in your parents’ basement where you play video games and hack into the dark web, you only have a writer’s platform if you write a tell-all book about the dark web, especially one that the FBI tries to get banned. Otherwise, you can send the best novel in the universe to a big New York publisher and they probably won’t take it on because you don’t have a platform. That is, nobody has heard of you and you aren’t maintaining a business of some kind that will draw readers to your books.

Most of us who write self-published or small-press books need a platform. Nonfiction is easier than fiction, because our books can be an outgrowth of a strong, nonfiction website that gets thousands of hits a month. That is, if you maintain a popular website in which you provide the real stories behind major crimes, your novel will be seen as part of this and will probably sell well.

If you’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest, and have lots of followers and comments, you’re better off than those who have no online presence unless you have a high-profile teaching position or other offline work that has made you widely known to many people.

Many of us imagine our writer’s platform looks like this:

When, in reality, it looks like this:

 

But then, for example, after hearing a lot of positive comments on, say, Facebook about a new novel we’re about to release, we realize after it’s been released that very few people on our friend’s list actually bought a copy, and that of the small number who did, few (if any) of them posted an Amazon review.

There have been–and still are–a variety of authors’ networking sites. My experience with these is that most authors are there to sell their own books rather than to buy the books of other unknown authors. While “networking” on the authors’ sites, those people are buying James Patterson, Donna Tart, and John Grisham novels rather than fiction nobody’s ever heard of.

Many small-print and self-published authors depend on Amazon. Some books–mostly nonfiction, it seems–have made a lot of money there. Most fiction by unknown authors doesn’t sell well there because most people never see it and those who do would rather buy books from known authors. While Amazon helps self-published and small-press authors to some extent, it’s still a business that makes more off James Patterson than Joe Nobody.

As others before me have said, those of us who don’t have platforms that get the attention of Oprah’s Book Club or a New York Times reviewers basically have to be content to write in the shadows and earn our money from other jobs. Over time, we may be able so build platforms that attract more prospective readers. My last three novels, for example, were about hoodoo. If I were a hoodoo practitioner (I’m not), then my hoodoo site would be a natural place to promote my book. The same can be true for any other field where you have credentials and a following. Those who have come to your site for facts, are likely to enjoy fiction based on those facts.

You can also build your platform by submitting short stories to literary magazines, including those who only pay in contributor’s copies. The credit line at the end of the story that says something like “Bob Smith is the author of the Andromeda Series of fantasy novels” is a good way to spread your name around to prospective readers. Needless to say, magazine credits, including any where your short story or poem won a contest, give your website something to mention.

I remain skeptical of the paid-for-reviews from the well-known sites who provide these because the reviews are expensive and when published, you cannot be certain those reviews won’t be segregated into a “self-published reviews” category. Labeling them like that pretty much negates the value of the review. Also, if you look at the statistics about the probable sales of a self-published book, the cost of that paid-for-review may wipe out all your profits. So far, I haven’t been willing to roll the dice on reviews or book-of-the-year contests that cost a lot of money and/or advertise the awards are for indie books.

Unfortunately, blogger reviews seem to be of limited help because those blogs don’t attract a lot of attention when compared to the value to a review on a mainstream, traditional newspaper or site. A review from “Bob’s Blog” isn’t really something that’s going to lure a lot of readers away from your mainstream competition. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solicit such reviews, only that you recognize going in that they aren’t the New York Times or The Christian Science Monitor.

You can, to some extent, widen your platform by engaging with readers and writers on sites like Facebook. It’s easy to log on to Facebook and upload the same old stuff every week: notices about your books, shared pictures of animals, jokes, and an occasional political rant. It takes more time to go to the sites of those on your friends list an actually say something there rather than simply clicking LIKE. The same is true of the bogs you read where you can click LIKE and also read a comment. When you find books and viewpoints you like, you are building your platform by leaving comments so that the writers/bloggers start recognizing your name.

If you’re on Pinterest, you can post links to your own blogs and the sites you like about subject matter that may interest others. You can also PIN some of the links other people share that fit into the various niche areas that fit your interests and your novels. The thing here is: engage with the users about things that interest them.

Many authors think their novels require and “all about me” approach to promotion and interaction on blogs and social networks. Really, they’re an “all about you” kind of promotion. Talking about why you wrote those books is not nearly as important as showing prospective readers what’s in it for them to read those books.  Your platform needs to be an invitation rather than a memoir about you and how hard it was to write your novel.

Malcolm