I often read Chuck Wendig's TerribleMinds blog: I find it to be informative and always entertaining, and the comments are often fun as well. So when I saw a "flash fiction" challenge that didn't involve flash fiction, in his post titled "Today's Flash Fiction Writing Challenge Is Not About Fiction," I thought, why not? Let me give it a try! It's not really a question I've often asked myself. The short answer, I suppose, is that I really enjoy it. Why do I play piano or guitar? Because I enjoy it. I'm good enough on both to play in, like, amateur bands and such, with an occasional appearance on a CD or something, but I'm not massively talented on either one. Plus, I don't put in the work to take full advantage of the talent I do have. I was, at one point in my life, able to supplement my income by playing music. Not by much, but still... So I write for the same reason. I like to write. I think I do it well. I'm no Stephen King, but I think I'm as good as a lot of people writing fiction today. I know what I like when I read, and I try to write those same things, in that same style. Why do I think I can do it well enough to publish stories? For the same reason that I was able to take the stage in front of a house full of bar patrons or wedding guests and feel comfortable playing a rip-roaring solo on a rock and roll tune on piano. There's a longer answer. When I read some of the other entries to Chuck's challenge, I noticed that mostly, they had deeper thoughts on this issue. So I thought, there must be a deeper reason for me as well. And I thought about it some more, and came up with some other stuff. I've been writing since I was in grade school. I watched a Disney episode on some wild animal or another, with the folksy narrator who personified the cute little bugger, and I wrote my own story in the same vain, about a bobcat in New York. I read some non-fiction about Native Americans and the trains that traveled through the plains with the passengers shooting cows, er, ah, bison who were meandering on the prairies, minding their own business and munching away. Then I wrote a short story about something like that. I loved baseball as a kid, and made up my own fictional team (The Joliet Argonauts) and wrote three long-ish stories that detailed their championship run. (My teacher told me that I might have a future as a sportscaster or a sports journalist.) My friends and I had a snowball fight and I fictionalized that. I always wanted to describe the world the way I thought it should be, or maybe the way I wanted it to be. So I wrote. When I read stories by Heinlein, by Asimov, by Clarke, then later by King, Koontz, McCammon and so many others, I saw worlds that inspired me to think about my own worlds...and it seemed natural to write about those worlds. Even more, I saw characters that drew me in, that made me feel like I knew them. And I pictured my own characters, and again, it seemed natural to put them into situations. These situations are called stories, and I write them for the same reason I read a lot – because I want to see what happens to these characters as they explore these worlds. That's my own story, and I'm sticking to it. *****
I've had some good reads lately. I've been reading more and more on my Kindle, just because it's so darned convenient. I have tons of books by the likes of Stephen King, Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Connelly, CJ Box, Robert Crais and others on my stacks, sitting there unread, but since I've been reading when I'm in bed after lights out or in situations where I don't have great lighting, the Kindle's been the go-to source of stories. Anyway, here's a few things I've been reading recently. I'm not going to make too many comments, just say whether I liked them or not.
- DON'T LEAVE ME, James Scott Bell. Liked it a lot. Four to five stars.
- SEASICK, Iain Rob Wright. Good horror story, set at sea. 4 to 5 stars.
- UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY, Chuck Wendig. Neat fantasy set in a cool world. A little slow on the uptake. 4 stars.
- SLOW BURN 6: BLEED, Bobby Adair. Zombie fiction, pretty good, lots of action. 4 stars
- SLOW BURN 7: CITY OF STIN, Bobby Adair. Zombie fiction, sorta slow with not as much happeniing. 3.5 stars
- VLAD V: VAMPIRE, Mit Sandru. A relatively short introductory novel, good enough that I want to read more. 4 to 5 stars
- COLD MOON, Alexandra Sokoloff. Satisfying third book in a series. Very fun and tense read. 5 stars
- HEART OF STONE, H. Lynn Keith. Very good thriller with SF elements and interesting characters. 5 stars.
- SPOOKED, Tracy Sharp. Good horror story with great pacing and characters. 4 to 5 stars.
- INTRUDERS: THE INVASION, Tracy Sharp. Another zombie story, but this one has aliens as well. Great first book in a series. Looking forward to the rest. 5 stars.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision – I decided to give away ODD MAN OUT, a short story pair that featured the title tale (about 1600 words) and a second short story called THE HOUSE AT THE BEND IN THE ROAD (about 1800 words). Of all my works, I like this cover the best. It looks professionally done, because it was. I have a good friend, Rich Siegle, who did the cover for me (gratis), and he does book covers for small publisher Poison Pen Press in Scottsdale, Arizona. I paired these two stories because, well, they seemed to go together. Originally I had paired SOLE OCCUPANT and ODD MAN OUT because I liked them about the best of all my short stories, but I ended up using this pairing because it kept the word counts between the two ebooks about the same. ODD MAN OUT is also found in the collection 14 DARK WINDOWS. The short story pair costs $0.99 on Amazon, because that is the lowest price Amazon will let you set for something. I lowered the collection to $0.99 also, because I hoped to move some titles. I decided to give this short story away because I thought if someone liked enough, they might be inspired to buy the collection which contains both of these and twelve other stories (including the aforementioned SOLE OCCUPANT). I also started to expand this short story into a longer work. Hoping that I can get 20 or 30 thousand words out of it. It struck me as I read it that there was a lot more story to tell. So we'll see what comes out of that project. I haven't been putting much time into writing on this story recently; there's been a LOT going on with my family, but I think things might start to wind down now. The other reason I haven't been writing it is because I spent some time finishing up the collaboration between my son Kevin and me. It's part of a series, and we completed Book 1 and got a fair start on Book 2. Book 1 is about 77000 words, so it's a full length novel. Believe it or not, it started life as Harry Potter/SwordArt Online crossover fan fiction written by my son. I saw some potential in it and decided to write it with a more original slant. So, maybe I will get some things written before summer runs out of time. We'll see. Oh, yeah. The point of this post was that I did a giveaway with ODD MAN OUT. The giveaway ran three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). I only announced it on Facebook. I gave away 35 copies of the short story in that time frame. (Well, 36, but one was downloaded by me for free in an attempt to boost the number by one.) I guess that's 35 people who never heard of me before, because I doubt I had anyone from my Facebook announcement get it. Okay, perhaps there were four or five downloads because of that announcement. I can't say for sure. We'll see if anyone grabs the collection in the next week or so. Even one or two downloads would be great! So, did it do what I hoped? No...it made it to #10 on a "Ghosts and Haunted Houses" list on Amazon, but it certainly didn't amount to much in the sense of sheer downloads. But it's just one of those things. Have a great week. *****
Yesterday I was reading blog entries on The Passive Voice, on Joe Konrath's blog and some Hugh Howey thoughts, and I thought, "Wow! Why am I not in KDP Select?" So why wasn't I? I put my short stories in KDP Select when I wanted to give some of them away several months ago. But I never put my longer collections and my novella into it. My reasoning was that I was going to move to publish the works with other platforms, like B&N, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords. I was thinking that maybe Draft2Digital was the way to go, but I wasn't sure. I never did any of that. Honestly, I can't see myself putting in the work to do so at this time. Maybe if I was seeing income worth talking about, I could justify putting in the time. But right now, I can't. So, I placed everything into KDP Select. My novella, THE CAVE, costs $0.99 to buy, but can be borrowed in Kindle Unlimited or through Prime. My short story collections, DIE 6, 14 DARK WINDOWS, and THE STRIKER FILES, are all currently priced at $0.99, and all can be borrowed via KU or through Prime. And my four short stories (all of which are found in 14 DARK WINDOWS as well), are also priced at $0.99, and all are part of KU and Prime. Here's what one reviewer said about my short story ODD MAN OUT:
A pair of creepy tales, well written if on the short side. Worth a read, especially via Kindle Unlimited. I'll be checking out the collection that includes these. EC, Amazon review.Another review about the same says:
The book is two short word pictures of atmospheric horror. They both nicely evoke a feeling of creepy dread, and in the case of the House At the Bend In the Road, mystery. Worth a read! Scott R. Turner, Amazon review.(ODD MAN OUT is available as a standalone short story or as part of the collection 14 DARK WINDOWS.) Anyway, there it is. I'm all in on KDP Select for now. Grab 'em or borrow them. They're not pricey. I think they're good reads, but of course I would think that, since I wrote them. But a few others think the same. Don't let others do your thinking for you; check them out yourself... *****
When I started practicing dentistry almost 30 years ago, I became involved in a reimbursement plan called “Capitation.” It was “insurance” where families or individuals paid a set fee every month, then the company took a percentage of that fee and passed the rest on to me. Their advertising to patients stated that they ‘covered’ 100% of every dental procedure known to man. When I first started with them, I was actually getting checks for a little more than what I would have billed for services on capitation patients that month. But very soon that corrected itself and I was getting less than what I would have billed, by about 20%. Then another provider quit and I got a large influx of new patients. I started making more money, but very soon I was doing way more work than I was getting paid for. It got to the point where I was getting only 40-50% of the work I was doing. So I quit. The future of bookselling, says Joe Konrath among others, is in subscription services. No one says that books will not still be purchased, but what Joe says, if I'm understanding him correctly, is that for many readers, especially avid readers, there will be a significant economic incentive to borrow books via a service like Scribd or Amazon's Kindle Unlimited rather than purchasing the titles. I can certainly see how he comes up with that view. It's exactly what happened with my capitation participation. As the subscribers to the plan figured out that they could get an unlimited amount of dentistry done for one set monthly fee, and perhaps just as importantly, that there was a new young dentist out there who would do the dentistry they needed (and do a good job of it), they flocked in to use their "insurance." Very few of them understood what they were paying for. As far as they knew, they were paying an insurance premium and I was getting paid by the insurance company for work done as I did it. (That IS the situation with fee-for-service insurance, which is capped at one to two thousand dollars per year but pays me for the services I perform on patients.) Capitation was a great plan for the patients – as long as there was a provider willing to do dentistry for the amount of money he was receiving. So, there are three distinct entities involved in systems like this. One is the reader. She is analogous to the patient in my capitation situation. She wants stories to read, and a subscription service would seem to give them to her. How many stories she reads in a month? It's limited only by her speed of reading and the time she has available for reading. The second is the author. She would be analogous to the provider, who, in my case, is the dentist. She produces stories for the reader to read. How many stories can the author provide? Well, again, it depends on the speed of the author (ie, how fast she can write) and the amount of time she has to actually write stories. It's limited by both of those two things, just as in a dental practice. In my case, I was limited by the number of appointments I had available for everyone, not just the capitation patients. I was also limited by how long I took to perform a specific procedure. Root canals took longer than fillings and cleanings. Dentures took more appointments. I was also limited by my own costs. I suppose an author is limited by the costs of editing, proofreading, cover, formatting, etc etc. In other words, in both situations there would seem to be a floor as to reimbursement. Reimbursement needs to cover the costs of doing business. The third is the "Company." In my case the company was one that provided capitation-style "insurance" to various employers so they could provide reasonably priced dental plans to their employees. In an author's case, the companies are Scribd and Oyster and Amazon. The company has to balance the amount of money coming in with the amount of money going out in such a way that it covers its cost of administering the plan (in the dental example) or delivering, storing and providing some promotion for the ebooks in the lending service (Scribd, Oyster and Amazon). Oh, and it needs to make a little profit. (Costs would include the salaries of everyone involved in the process of acting as the middleman.) In the case of Scribd, it seems that they were paying authors for borrows as if the books were purchased. Voracious readers were reading a LOT, apparently, and Scribd was responsible for paying the authors as if those readers were purchasing every book. (Almost sounds like a fee-for-service dental plan.) Authors were paid per unit read, full price for the book. Readers were paying a flat fee (something like $8.99 a month?) to access as many books as they wanted to. In Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, Amazon collects a flat fee ($9.99 a month) from subscribers, and allows them to borrow ten books simultaneously. It then takes their subscription fees and puts them into a pool (minus whatever costs they feel they need to withhold to cover their operating costs and whatever profit they want to make), and from that pool it reimburses the authors whose books were borrowed. (I think I understand this correctly.) Amazon was paying authors if a reader read 10% of their book, which was great for short stories (my own shorts were in there, but I think I only had one or two Kindle borrows), not quite as good for authors of novels and such. Now they have switched it so that writers will be paid by the actual pages read of their works. I take this to mean that if someone writes a ten page short story and a reader finishes it, that writer is paid the same as an author who writes a 300 page novel and a reader only reads the first ten pages of it. (Seems relatively fair on the face of it.) So, if everything is golden, why did Scribd remove a bunch of romance novels from their service? Apparently they did this because romance readers are reading them right into the poor house. They're reimbursing every author full price for the books borrowed. If a reader is paying $8.99 for a month's subscription, it's easy math to see that they can read three books priced at $2.99 before the company starts taking it on the chin. Not just no profit, but real financial losses. I think this is illustrative of the pitfalls of this sort of model. Because when you look at Scribd's options, you see that there aren't too many. First, they could raise subscription fees. Mark Coker suggested that perhaps there should be a tiered plan, with a basic level that allows a certain number of borrows per month, and maybe an unlimited plan for more money that allows as many borrows as the reader can read. Any increase in costs up front to the reader will likely lead to less subscribers. For some it would be a good deal at a much higher fee, but for others it would perhaps tip the scales in the other direction. Second, they could pay authors less. This is sort of what Amazon's KU does. There is a fixed pool of money, funded (I assume) in large part by subscription fees. The pool is divided by the total number of pages read by subscribers, and the authors are paid by pages read. In general, this model will reimburse authors by some amount that is probably less than the amount they would receive had all the borrowed books been purchased by readers. I can't say this with 100% certainty, but the math seems to make sense, especially if we're talking about books that are reimbursed at 70%. (At 35%, the math tips in the other direction. All of my books are currently priced at $0.99, so I don't make much per purchase.) But they run the risk of having authors pull their books out of the program if they aren't making enough money for their efforts. Third, the company could simply take losses and hope that the subscription dollars grow as more people subscribe, and hope that not all of them are voracious readers who consume many more books than they are realistically paying for. They run the risk of losing money and putting themselves right out of business, unless they're a company like Amazon. In my capitation case, the company who administered the plan had very little, if any, risk. Their biggest concern was in getting a provider who would adequately care for their subscribers. I know that one of the problems when I was doing it was that when I got that influx of patients due to another provider dropping out of the system, I found that they all needed a bunch of dental work. The other dentist wasn't doing much of anything. Cleanings, a few fillings, and not much more. He was coasting – sitting back, collecting checks and not doing the work because he wasn't treatment planning it. Many of them needed crowns and partial dentures, and I was doing them, one after another. I had to ration out the care, because I simply couldn't afford to do it all in one month. I wasn't being paid for it. Also, I had to ration out chair time. I couldn't allow more than a certain number of patients with that plan per week, because I had other, paying patients who I needed to work on in order to keep the business running at that time. The theory was that once I got a patient or a family completed, they would not need much work in the future, and I could collect their capitation fee without providing much value in the way of services. In practice, many of the patients dropped the coverage once they got their crowns and partials, and there was no way to force them to continue to pay for it. Some of this has implications for subscription services, some of it is unique to dentistry. The thing with ebooks is that there are tons of providers (authors) and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books out there. It isn't a single author being forced to write stories for the masses for virtually nothing. But in another sense, that just means that the pot (the subscriber fees) has to be divided in a lot more parts before being distributed to the providers. There is a delicate balance here that is going to be very difficult for a company to negotiate successfully. Amazon is experimenting with the way they reimburse authors, and they have the size and the ability to spend money in an attempt to figure out a way to do this right, to find that perfect balancing spot. There's more to be said on this issue, but this has gone on long enough today. If anyone reads this and has any thoughts, please jot them down in the comments! Thanks! *****
I was touring blogs over my lunch hour here at the office, and came across this interesting selection on The Passive Voice, titled Rockets, Robots, and Reckless Imagination. It's an article about science fiction in Pakistan and how popularizing it as a genre might benefit the country down the road, and why the author believes this to be true. I liked the article, but as is often the case, the comments to the article are very thought provoking. So I started thinking about what Science Fiction was, to me. Sometimes I think it's one of those "I know it when I see it" types of things. I read a novel or a short story and I know if its SF or something else. I believe there are two different things in play. First, there are the trappings of SF. Think Star Wars. Think Buck Rogers. Think Star Trek, even. Put futuristic weapons in a story, set it on a different planet, at some point in the future, and some people will box it up and call it "Science Fiction." Is it? Hardly, in my view. Star Wars has a lot of SF trappings in it. There are space ships, robots, laser weapons, interplanetary travel, and aliens in that universe. Another example is a Stephen King short story called "The Jaunt." Have you read it? It deals with a way to travel between two distant points instantaneously. It's sort of like warp drive or teleporting in the Star Trek universe. Is it science fiction? I say it's not. The only point of the wormhole, or whatever it is that allows them to travel between the two points, is to create a real horror story. It uses a science fiction device to tell a frightening tale. Instead, I believe that it is the second thing that makes something a science fiction story, and that thing is "idea." Good science fiction explores ideas, extrapolates them into the future and tells a story within the framework of that idea. Can dystopian fiction be science fiction? I believe it can be. Can post-apocalyptic fiction be SF? Again, my answer would be "yes." But SF can be many things. Sometimes it's a mystery or a thriller, set in the future and using ideas about the future at its core. (I'm thinking of some of Asimov's robot stories, and also of the fiction of Steven M. Moore.) Sometimes it is more straightforward, focusing on the effects, near-term or far-flung, of some important scientific discovery that is within the realm of possibility, however improbable. You can't just throw out a handful of SF trappings and make something "science fiction." Those trappings have to be integral to the story. As has been said in many places and many times, Star Wars could have been set in the old West (and in fact, may have been set in imperial Japan?) and the story would be the same. You could replace the lasers with revolvers or swords, you could replace the robots with people, and you could replace the spaceships with horses or trains or whatever, and you'd have essentially the same story. Take a science fiction story and replace the "trappings" of SF in it, and you won't have the same story. You likely won't even have a story. To me, SF takes an idea, maybe from today, and extrapolates it in some way, shape or form. It may or may not have robots, lasers, and space ships, but it will have an idea that has become integral to the story. ***** The comments at TPV talk about religion versus science, and one poster (Antares) points out that for most of us, science has an element of faith in it. We put faith in a scientist or a teacher or a research paper and accept its pronouncements as truth, much the same way that we accept the pronouncements of a church or a religion as true. He mentions that few of us have actually done the work to "see" that DNA is a double helix, but we accept that it is based on the assertions of scientists and observers. I found this interesting. Something about it seems short-sighted, but I can't figure out exactly what it is. Anyone have any thoughts? *****