Month: July 2017 Page 1 of 2

Horror tropes: Aha!

Here are the top tropes from the Amazon Kindle Mystery, Thriller & Suspense–>Suspense–>Horror list as of July 27, 2017.  As I was investigating the list, I found something surprising…

  • Detective investigates horror – The River Is Dark by Joe Hart
  • Try to find out why loved one did horrible thing – The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz
  • Cozy horror (boutique job: blogging house flippers) – The Haunting of Winchester Mansion Omnibus by Alexandria Clarke (Note: I tried to look up the author but didn’t find anything.  This screams “pseudonym” to me.)
  • Normal people are crazy – The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn
  • Serial killer apocalypse – Trackers: A Post-Apocalyptic EMP Thriller by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
  • Haunted house – The Haunting of Blackwood House by Darcy Coates
  • Detective investigates horror + normal people are crazy – Missing Ones Super Boxset: A Collection of Riveting Kidnapping Mysteries by various (Note: Same style as the Alexandria Clarke series…J.S. Donovan, Roger Hayden, James Hunt are authors.)
  • Cozy horror + haunted house – House of Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries by Alexandria Clarke and Roger Hayden (Alexandria Clarke is listed above; Roger Hayden is also in the Missing Ones box set; same style as Alexandria Clarke and the other box set above).
  • Detective investigates horror – Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  • Detective investigates horror + normal people are crazy + post-apoc bundle – The Missing Super Boxset: A Collection of Riveting Mysteries by James Hunt.  (Note: Same style as the other box sets.  WTF.)

Okay, at this point, I stopped typing stuff in and looked up J.S. Donovan, James Hunt, Roger Hayden, and Alexandria Clarke.  They don’t have webpages or newsletters or author photos or bios; they all have the same book cover design; they’re all interrelated via box sets.  My suspicion is that they’re all the same author writing under different pseudonyms (or: several ghostwriters writing under the same mastermind publisher, which isn’t listed) and completely dominating the list right now.  Roger Hayden has an actual Smashwords profile, which tells me he’s the most likely candidate for the main writer behind this. He also has by far the largest number of books, going back the farthest.  So…the Hayden Horror Collective?

I stopped to wonder if Darcy Coates is part of the Hayden Horror Collective – but she has her own identity and website, even if she does have a similar cover image and subject matter, so I’d have to have more info before I grouped her with the others. She doesn’t show up in any of their box sets.

  • Detective investigates horror – The Abducted Super Boxset: A Small Town Kidnapping Mystery by Roger Hayden (Same pattern)
  • Normal people are crazy? or haunted house – Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
  • Detective investigates horror with meta touches – Finders Keepers by Stephen King
  • Apocalypse – The Stand by Stephen King
  • Normal people are horrible – Housebroken by The Behrg
  • Apocalypse – Trackers 2: The Hunted (A Post-Apocalyptic EMP Thriller) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
  • Detective investigates horror – The Haunting of Rachel Harroway – Book 2 by J.S. Donovan (Same pattern)
  • Normal people are horrible – The Mist by Stephen King
  • Normal people are horrible – Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus
  • Detective investigates horror – The Haunting of Rachel Harroway – Book 1 by J.S. Donovan (same pattern)

The Hayden Horror Collective occupies 7 of the top 20 spots.  If you want to know why people hire ghostwriters, here’s your example: a writer hits an audience sweet spot, hires other writers to exploit the market, and uses collective promotions between those writers to take over a bestseller list.

I could be wrong, but…

If you liked this post, why not read something I wrote? By Dawn’s Bloody Light, a cheesy ’80s  horror novella with fairies.  Three women looking for revenge. A serial killer who won’t know what hit him.

How much journaling is enough?

I started journaling on a blank half-page.  The first few lines were the usual rubbish.  Then:  “How much journaling is enough?” popped up, and I had to wonder.  I normally do nothing, or three pages.

During weeks where I have a lot of freelancing to do, it’s generally nothing.

But in that half page, I answered my question: for me, journaling is useful if it makes me step back and consider what I’m thinking.  Terry Pratchett’s second thoughts, if you know the reference.  The process of deliberately “waking” out of one type of thought–becoming a lucid dreamer of my mundane thought process.

–Which means that a half-page of journaling isn’t a waste of time at all.

If you liked this post, why not check out something I wrote?  A Murder of Crows: 17 tales of monsters, cannibals, zombies, goddesses, crows, witches, supernatural mayhem, and just plain evil.

Current Schedule: Oops…

Here’s my current schedule:

  • Do “human stuff” like get dressed and eat breakfast.
  • Write
  • Hustle
  • Study
  • Lunch
  • Freelancing
  • Family

A lot of what I’m seeing is that I’m not spending my “hustle” time wisely; I get into a habit of doing things that are pleasant to do, but not especially effective in marketing and promotions–like editing and formatting, let alone active promotions.  It’s much easier to sell books when they’re on the market.

If you liked this post, check out a Storybundle I’m in, the SF/F Binge Reader Bundle.  It’s a bundle of SF/F bundles, nineteen novels and a mountain of short stories that give the millenium a run for its money.

Why isn’t The Silence of the Lambs considered horror?

A question that I simply had to answer on FB…everyone else was addressing the fact that it’s fine that stories without elements of the supernatural are considered horror, but not talking about underlying reasons why.  Genre is often a marketing category–not a logical one.  I realized that I’ve actually read broadly enough across the history of horror to actually answer this (although I’m probably wrong on at least a couple of points):

In the 70s and 80s, horror became pretty rigid as a genre, being mostly a marketing category to sell scantily clad, screaming (and perhaps plucky) young women and tough men with lots of grit (and perhaps hubris) against an uncaring universe. Wicked thrills, some good plot twists, some gross-out and splatter. A lot of what we think of as horror now got retconned into the genre later (the Alien series–SF). There were a few outliers who didn’t fit the mold, a lot of them British (Clive Barker). Mostly women got moved into the dregs of Gothic, fantasy, and plain ol’ fiction (I think Anne Rice was the main exception–Tanith Lee was fantasy at the time, although she was in a lot of Weird Tales–while writers like Toni Morrison or Shirley Jackson were fiction). Mostly non-supernatural horror got shunted into suspense or literary fiction (The Silence of the Lambs, Fowles’s The Collector), although if you were a name in horror, everything you wrote was de facto horror (Misery and The Eyes of the Dragon by King, which by another name would be thriller and fantasy today).

A lot of the short fiction from the time is all over the place, and is quite wonderful. But the novels were more rigidly controlled. I’m pretty sure that the writers of the time would have written more widely if they’d been able to sell those novels.

In the 90s, things opened up, but slowly, as the sales numbers of the horror genre declined, and you see stuff like more women, more horror marketed toward younger audiences (Goosebumps), more historical horror (Kim Newman), more regional horror, horror getting translated and coming in from Japan, etc., more diverse writers with more diverse stories. The 2000s is when it starts getting properly Messed Up, with metafictional horror (House of Leaves, John Dies at the End), literary horror (Dan Simmons, Let the Right One In), nihilistic horror, worldwide horror…I think the 90s and 2000s are my favorite decades since the 1890s. 

So what you have now is a genre blossoming into the broadness of the short fiction that has been the particular gold in the horror genre mines, to create a more diverse, unpredictable genre that still dips deep into the 80s horror tropes from time to time…and a lot of pulp/KDP fiction that’s trying to be The Silence of the Lambs with monsters (professional detective/agent/cop discovers monsters!). It’s a really interesting time to be writing in the genre.

If you, too, would live in interesting times…check out my cheesy 80s horror novella By Dawn’s Bloody Light, the first in the Fairy’s Tale series.  Three women, the queen of the fairies, and the serial killer who won’t know what hit him.

You’re indie and you’re ready to publish: now what?

Someone asked me what my preferred platforms were for print and ebook publishing and why.  The details have updated since the last time I blogged this, so here’s the current advice:


Lulu – have used but not since 2009 or so.  LOTS of complaints.  Do not recommend.

CreateSpace is a branch of Amazon.  Pro:  does not require ISBN.  Con:  Nobody but Amazon will sell it.  If you’re looking to get into physical bookstores or sell at cons, don’t use this as your sole printer.  That being said, I use it (I’m not ready to take on marketing to print bookstores yet, and I’d want to get a ton of ISBNs of my own first).  They do good books and mostly ship on time or early (but watch out for mid-November to mid-January, as they can be massively delayed for winter hols book season).  Recommend getting a print proof copy before going live; I’ve never had issues but lots of friends have had problems with color.  Pays on time. Softcover only.
Ingram Spark/Lightning Source are basically the same company, one for “publishers” with at least like ten books and the other for solo titles mostly.  I’m not sure of the subtle payment differences.  Also does good books.  They ship on time, as far as I know, even through the holidays, but is generally slower than CS.  They have LOTS of fees, especially if you want to change the book after it goes live.  Payment can take an arcane amount of time as you end up dealing with more physical bookstores.  I’m not sure about the returns.  You can also do hardcovers with wraparound paper jackets.
Print recommendation:
  • Avoid Lulu.
  • Set up a CreateSpace book using their free ISBN.  Sell the CS book on Amazon (you’ll make a higher profit margin if you use CS than IS).
  • Set up an Ingram Spark book using lessons learned on the CS book in order to prevent a fee train wreck. You can use the same file if you do PDF/X-1a on your file setups of both covers and interiors.
Here you have to decide whether you want to go Amazon exclusive or not.  I cannot make a recommendation on this; I was having no luck on Kindle Direct Select previously, but changed my attitude a couple of months ago and am trying again, just to see.  There’s a whole discussion about who the customers are you want to reach and how many titles you want to put out and how often that I’m not going to get into here.  In short, probably it’s “Amazon exclusive is the minimal amount of work and may be best suited to people who write pulp fiction targeting super-readers (people who read 50+ titles per week in niche categories),” and “Wide distribution is more work and may best be suited for books that have a more literary bent, aren’t published as often, and are directed toward worldwide regular readers (1+ book a week) who want access to their favorite digital readers.”  But I’m not sure about that.
To sum up, I can’t decide where anyone else wants to go with regards to Amazon exclusive 🙂
Best wide-distribution stores, though, those I can recommend:
  • Amazon (.mobi files).
  • Kobo (.epub) – note: if you use Kobo directly, ask me about the promo list
  • Draft2Digital (.epub) – note: you can flow to Kobo via D2D, but you can’t access the promo list if so, and the promo list can be very valuable
  • Smashwords is probably not worth the time, unless you want to go REALLY wide.
  • DriveThruFiction is a sister site of DriveThruRPG, which I don’t use but if you write fiction that gamers would tend to like it might be a good place.
How to set the ebooks up:
  • Some people use carefully formatted .doc files.  There are usually minor formatting issues, no matter how perfectly you follow the directions, especially with Amazon.
  • People with Macs recommend Vellum.  I don’t have a Mac and can’t speak to it.
  • The most recent versions of InDesign have an export function.  I don’t have a recent version of ID and can’t speak to it.
  • Scrivner has an export function.  I don’t have Scrivner and can’t speak to it.
  • I build an HTML file using a template, then convert to epub/mobi.  I use Calibre for the conversion, but I should probably switch over to building my own files at some point.  I haven’t yet.
  • I have had to rebuild files for other clients because they converted using InDesign, due to InDesign introducing too many errors in the converted ebook.  But it’s been a while.
  • If you want to see the HTML file building/conversion process, I highly recommend BB eBooks.  <3 <3 <3

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Paying it forward: the burden of telling the truth

The question was how to jump in and advise a newbie they were making mistakes.
The deal I’ve made with paying it forward is this: If someone asks me for help, I warn them that I’m truly analytical. (Usually by that point they know, but I still feel obligated to say so.) I go over what they give me and work hard to identify both strengths and weaknesses, and also to communicate where that person is, in my opinion, in relation to reaching professional writer status. I also give suggestions on what to do with the work at hand to get it out the door for indie, trad, or small press publication.
A lot of people thank me and drift backwards out of my life; some of them stick around and tease me for being so analytical (which honestly I enjoy). A few people ingest and transform–rarely in a way that I expect.
Truth isn’t a highly-valued commodity, but that doesn’t mean that the people who value it don’t exist–but they’re far more likely to be the people who come looking for you.
Enjoy this post? Take a look at this fabulous meta book bundle (a bundle full of bundles) that I’m in, The SF/F Binge Reader’s Bundle.  I’m in The Faerie Summer Bundle.

Interrupting Depression: But being numb feels better than taking care of myself…

I’m struggling with an anxiety/depression cycle (again).  Part of the problem is that when I take care of myself, I feel my anxiety or depression more acutely than I did before I started taking care of myself.

Numbness.  It’s comforting.

I try to tell myself that it takes energy to feel numb, not the deadness of full-blown depression, but just pleasantly numb.  Functional.  And I can’t burn that energy on numbness if I want to interrupt the cycle.

But wouldn’t it be better to just wait the cycle out?  

I never do, though.  I just turn numbness up to eleven and stop taking care of myself.

I see you, depression and anxiety.  My eyes are on you.  And I’m going to take care of myself, whether you like it or not.  I took a shower this morning, bitches…

Like this post?  Then do me a favor and check out Alice’s Adventures in Underland, a short historical fantasy novel about Alice Liddel and Charles Dodgson, gentleman zombie.

Current Book Study Process: Scraping the meat off fictional bones

I’m running a study project for a writing group; I thought I’d note down my current study process here, too:

  • Pick the right book, by a long-term pro in the field.  15+ years of writing a book a year, a book that’s less than 10 years old (and push back the 15+ years if the book is older than this year), and a current bestseller.
  • Type in the book description from Amazon.  Look at the sales categories (horror, sf, romance, etc.), the bio, and the author sales categories.  Look at the reviews, including editorial, top, most recent, and one-star reviews.  Look at the cover–look at the author’s other covers, the other series covers, the author’s other covers in that genre.  Look at the other covers in the author’s sales categories.  Do all the things line up, providing a clear, appealing, consistent message?
  • Type in the first section, at least 1000 words, to get a feel for the author’s style.
  • For each section, identify:
    • POV character
    • Setting
    • Opening (before the main action of the story) and length
    • What does the main character try to accomplish, a.k.a. the “try”? (And is the main character the same as the POV character?)
    • Does the character fail? Does the character succeed?  If they succeed, how does this make things worse?
    • Closing (how the chapter wraps up).
    • How long is the whole section?
  • If you get stuck, type the section in.
  • Watch for scene transitions inside of sections; you might need to break down each scene or each beat in a section in order to answer all the questions in depth.
  • As you realize that you have an issue with any one element of a story, go back and type that element in across the book.  Have trouble pacing action scenes?  Type them in.  Dialog clunky?  Type some in.  Not sure how to handle dialog tags?  Type them in.  But don’t just type in the isolated element–type in that entire section, because stuff that doesn’t look relevant always is.  (Secret:  long-term professional writers don’t waste words.)
  • If any element of the book is tricky, you can go back to your notes and put them in a grid–a grid showing POVs is often useful in multiple-POV fantasy novels, for example.  Timelines in a multiple-timeline novel.  Clues vs. red herrings in a mystery.  Characters’ emotional states in a romance.  But first do the study:  it’s easy, when making grids like this, to impose your theories on another author’s book.  The more you type things in, the more likely you are to get at what the author said, rather than your theory.
  • Do at least one modern book that fits the rules above.  Then spread out with other writers who maybe aren’t as experienced, or books from the past.  You should be able to identify some of the differences, which might not be what you’d expect.

It’s harder than you’d think, but more rewarding, too.

If you liked this post, well, you’re a nerd, and I’m glad to have you.  Please check out the rest of this blog, which is where most of my truly nerdy stuff goes…and maybe take a look at this fabulous book bundle that I’m in, The SF/F Binge Reader’s Bundle.  I’m in The Faerie Summer Bundle.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Binge Reader Bundle

Curated by Kris Rusch, the Science Fiction and Fantasy binge reader bundle provides 19 novels and umpteen short stories by the likes of Kris, Anthea Sharp, Thomas K. Carpenter, Dayle Dermatis, and more. I have a novella in there–By Dawn’s Bloody Light: A Fairy’s Tale.  

As Kris says:

What kind of fiction will you find here? Science fiction and fantasy only, but written in such a way as to blur the lines of genre. You’ll find books in which high-tech gaming meets the world of faerie, books which hack reality (and involve crime lords!), time travel to the Old West, wreck diving in space, space pirates (!), librarian witches (complete with feline familiars), and the Fates—who just got fired.

For a limited time only 🙂

Big rocks, little rocks: When metaphor becomes a waste of time

Here’s the deal.  I’m overwhelmed with stuff.  Part of me wants to just charge in:  the sooner I get started on the mountain of tasks that I (always) have in front of me, the better.

…But the problem isn’t that I have “a mountain of tasks,” it’s that I think of them as a literal mountain of physical objects–rocks, dirt, something–that have to be dealt with as if they have literal, solid existence.  The big rocks, little rocks metaphor is the least efficient way to deal with a mountain of tasks–not least of which because it leaves out the amount of work it takes to a) sort out the rocks, and b) put them in the damn container.  To be able to schedule a day, a real day, the way that’s suggested by that model would take more than the amount of time during a real day–even if you only schedule two or three things and “let the rest fall into place.”

Because that’s not how it works.  Things don’t fall into place.  You get done with one project, look around, and have to change gears.  And deal with anything new that comes up.  And adapt to changes.  And reprioritize based on information you didn’t have earlier, including your own personal exhaustion level.

The mountain of tasks are not literal rocks.  The most efficient way to get rid of them is to decide not to do them.

Buh bye.

And that takes thought.  Which is why rushing in and working my hardest never does any long-term good.

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