Author Archives: Scott Dyson

Labels in fiction…

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, The Passive Voice, when I happened across an article by Ursula K. LeGuin (yes, the famous SF author of such classics as The Dispossessed) titled “Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

It discusses an author who wrote a book about post-Arthurian England, where everyone has lost their memories because of a sleeping dragon whose breath causes forgetfulness.  I haven’t read the book, but it sort of sounds like “fantasy” to me.  The author is not happy with that label, however.  Ms. LeGuin says that it appears the author takes the label as an insult, and Ms. LeGuin says that she finds his attitude about the label as an insult, as well.

My blog article isn’t about the mislabeling of books, or eschewing certain labels because they represent a literary ghetto or whatever.  I’m thinking more about labels themselves.  Are they a good thing?  Why do so many authors seem to despise any attempt to categorize their stories?  To fit them onto some overly broad (or overly narrow) shelf where there are other books that might be “like” them?

I can’t say I understand it completely.  I realize that everyone feels that their story is something unique.  Something personal.  Something that has meaning beyond the story.  Something that educates or informs beyond the devices used to convey that meaning.  And I admit that sometimes (not always) I have a bit of an agenda in writing a certain story; I’m trying to explore something I see in society in some manner through the characters in my story.  I may be trying to make a bit of a statement about how I see something in the world through the way my story unfolds.  Sometimes I do that.  But I never do it at the expense of the story I’m telling, at least in my view.

Mostly I just want to tell a good story.  Whether a reader is going to enjoy it, I don’t know.  I hope they do.  Some people have enjoyed my stories (at least they said they did) in the past.  But I have to admit that my main goal is to tell a story that keeps my readers (assuming I have any) interested until I finish.  Sort of like sitting around a campfire, except with more (and more interesting) words.

So as a writer, I don’t mind being labeled.  I like my stories; I find them interesting enough to think that others might enjoy them as well.  But I’m not thinking that they’re some sort of high art; that in a hundred years they’ll be placed on pedestals in the Book Museum or whatever.  So go right ahead and label them.  If I could label them myself, I would.  I actually do label them, in fact, by fitting them into categories on Amazon.  Am I labeling them correctly?  I don’t know.  I’m not real good at giving my own work a label.

As a reader, I appreciate labels.  I like recommendations, and labels, to me, seem to be the heart of recommendations.  “If you like ‘x’, you will probably like ‘y’.”    That statement, to me, is labeling two stories as appealing to the same group of readers, readers who like z’ types of stories.  So I like it when someone tells me that something is post-apocalyptic or dystopian science fiction, because I have a certain expectation for those labels.  If someone says something is fantasy, I might steer away from it, because I am not a big fantasy reader (Eddings, Tolkein and Donaldson excepted).  But if someone says something is ‘urban fantasy’, I might check it out because I associate that label with Jim Butcher, Laura Resnick and Tim Pratt (among others).  If something is labeled ‘serial killer horror,’ I might give it a look because I’ve enjoyed stories by Thomas Harris and by William Malmborg and Jeffrey Deaver (three very different examples of authors with stories about serial killers).

As a writer, I’d love it if my readers could label my fiction.  So far, all of it is short.  But as I’ve said, I have a couple more things ready to go.  If I can finish up my editing work and get some covers done, I have two or three that could be released before the summer.  Would you like to label them?  I’d call all three horror thrillers, and two of them have very human criminals who create the horror.  The third is a bit more supernatural.

In any case, I don’t think labels say anything about a work beyond offering a sort of classification system which is useful to readers, especially power readers who plow through and love certain types of stories.  They don’t say anything about the depth of the story, the quality of the storytelling or the technical skill of the author, but they do provide a handle for readers looking for new authors to discover.  As discovery tools how can they hurt?  Labels may be the only thing that writers today have in their bag to help them get discovered, since most of us (99.9% or more) do not have access to those front tables at a bookstore.

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New Marla Mason book!

I went to check out the blog of author Tim Pratt, who writes the Marla Mason series.  And happily, there was a new Marla Mason title out — LADY OF MISRULE is the name.

So I bought it.  Haven’t started it yet.  Currently I’m reading MURDER OF A NEEDLED KNITTER, a cozy mystery by Denise Swanson.  (More on her in a minute).  I’m also reading RED SURF by Tracy Sharp.  (More on her as well in a minute.)

I have always enjoyed Pratt’s urban fantasy series featuring a sorceress who kicks butt (usually literally).  She’s changed a lot over the course of the series, and I’ve lost count on which book this one is.  But the reason I thought I’d make a blog post on the series and on Tim Pratt is because I wanted to talk about the way I found him in the first place.

There’s a blog service called Journalscape — they offer free blogs to their users.  It’s a different interface than what you find here at WordPress.  In a lot of ways I like it.  There is no scrolling; instead, you go to an archive if you want to see old posts by the blogger.  Titles really mattered, if you wanted an audience.

Tim Pratt maintained a blog there at Journalscape called Tropism.  He doesn’t blog there anymore, but back in the day he and a few other authors (Laura Lippman, Keith Snyder, S.J. Rozan, Michael Jasper, Eric Mayer, Mark Terry, to name a few) had their blogs at the site.  (Only Rozan and Mayer still blog there, Rozan pretty regularly and Mayer off and on…)  I found his work through his blog there.  His Marla Mason novels were being published through a Big 5 publisher, and I found them in Barnes and Noble.  Four novels were published in the series by whoever it was.

When Pratt’s series was dropped, he decided to self-publish the next book in the series.  BONE SHOP was the first book he self-published, and it was also one of the first books I bought (for $4.99, if I recall correctly) for my old Kindle.  Pratt usually runs a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to “pay” for the writing of the books now.  He has enough fans that he is able to raise enough money to cover the “advance” that would have been paid by his publisher.  Then he writes the book when it funds, and writes it to his own Kickstarter-imposed deadline.  (I may have some of the specifics wrong here, but the gist of his system is correct, I think.)  I have not contributed to the Kickstarter campaigns.  But I’ve bought all of the Marla Mason books, and a couple of other books as well.  I’ve found his writing to be very entertaining.

I was happy to buy this latest at $4.99 for my Kindle, and I look forward to reading it.

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So, on to Denise Swanson.  Ms. Swanson writes cozy mysteries featuring school psychologist Skye Dennison as her sleuth.  Skye’s been getting involved in murder cases for seventeen books now, and in this latest, she is newly married to the police chief of Scumble River and on her honeymoon cruise.

I’ve loved this series from the start, in no small part because it is set in a fictional town very near my own town.  In fact, my town is the “big” town that everyone from her town goes to whenever they want to see a flick or eat out.  She names places in our city that I’ve eaten at.  She describes things that I used to do when I was in high school.  She’s even dedicated one of the books to a local dentist who is her dentist and who I know fairly well.  And another book was dedicated to the guys in a local cover band called Plastic Santa (now defunct) and I played with two of those guys in the previous incarnation of Plastic Santa (called Night School) and with another of them in a band I was in right after high school.  (I recognized the drummer of Plastic Santa as the main character’s brother in the books — I guess he’s related to Ms. Swanson in some way.)

The setting of these books has become a main character for me, and I always look forward to reading her descriptions of our area, and finding common experiences.  It may be one reason that this latest book is taking me a while to read — it isn’t set in Scumble River; instead it’s set on a luxury liner on an ocean cruise.  That “important character” (to me) isn’t a part of this latest book.

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And last, I mentioned Tracy Sharp and her latest book, RED SURF.  I’ve been slowly working my way through her Leah Ryan books, and this is the latest, I believe.  I found her in a unique way as well.  I found her through Joe Konrath’s blog.  She did a guest post back in the days when he was doing the fund-raising for Alzheimer’s research, I believe, and then she ended up writing a collaboration with Joe called JACKED UP!  It was pretty short, but it was fun.  I liked the character of Leah.  She was wild and irreverent and sexy.  So I decided to try REPO CHICK BLUES, and I found that I really liked that one as well.

Her others in the series haven’t held up quite as well as those two.  They’re still good, and I still like to read about Leah and her partner Jackson and their adventures, but it’s a good thing I started with the Konrath collaboration because if I had started with anything besides REPO CHICK BLUES, I probably wouldn’t have gone on.

Discoverability, thy name is Joe Konrath…

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My second free promotion results…

So my promotion ended yesterday.  It ended with a slight uptick on the downloaded copies of my two short story trios but it still was unimpressive.  Thank you to everyone who DID download the stories.  Hope you find something you like.  Even more, I hope you’ll maybe try something else I’ve written.  DIE 6 has some pretty good stories in it….I think…

So how did it compare to my first giveaway, where I promoted my titles SOLE OCCUPANT and DEAD OR ALIVE?  Well, that time I gave away 144 copies of the two titles.  The first of them did better.  I don’t think it’s surprising.  The cover for SOLE OCCUPANT was done by a professional, while the cover for DEAD OR ALIVE was done by…well, by me.

This time I gave away 71 copies in total.  Forty nine copies of JACK’O’LANTERN and 32 copies of THE GATEWAY were given away (by zombies…no, not really…by me).  Half the number of copies, though almost as many copies of JACK’O’LANTERN were given away as of DEAD OR ALIVE.  Anyway, why so few this time?  I have a few theories.

First, I did not have the opportunity to tag my giveaway with another giveaway.  In that case it was QUANTUM ZOO, with the giveaway promoted by all twelve authors (to some degree) and D.J. Gelner shared my status update, where I plugged both my own stories’ free status as well as that of QUANTUM ZOO.  This time, no shares from any authors.  (One offered but didn’t follow through, far as I could tell.)  I did have two friends share it with their own friends, and there is not much overlap between our groups of friends.  Anyway, when D.J. shared it on FB, my post views approached 300.  This time my post views were around 150 (maybe a bit more).  Half the page views, half the downloads.  Plus, people who were downloading QZ might have theoretically searched out works by the other authors in the collection and found a couple of mine on promotion, and grabbed them that way.  I’ll never know.

Second, these two covers are probably my worst covers.  I did them myself, and they were the first and second covers I ever did.  I’ll probably try to redo them sometime when I have the time.  But I don’t want to spend any actual money on them.  At $0.99 per download (which means $0.35 to me) it just does not make sense to spend the money on them.

It’s a shame, really.  I’ve had really good feedback on some of the stories.  Annetta Ribken once said of JACK’O’LANTERN (seen in a less edited form on the Friendly Fiction forum on Journalscape) that she could totally see it in a YA Halloween themed collection.  J. Michael Major listed AMERICA’S PASTIME (part of THE GATEWAY trio) as one of his favorites of the 14 DARK WINDOWS collection.  THE MOMENT also received good comments when I posted it on a blog a few years back.  And SARAH’S PUPPY won a contest on The Book and Candle Pub several years ago.  I think they’re decent stories.

Here’s Annetta’s quote (about JACK’O’LANTERN):

I can so see this in a YA Halloween anthology.
Cute and interesting premise. nicely done!

Author Eric Mayer (of the John the Lord Chamberlain mysteries) said this about THE MOMENT:

I enjoyed the story. From what I recall of eighth grade it seems true to life. Although I only wish I could’ve been bright enough to ever come up with a ruse like that. I’m surprised you could concoct this from six words not of your own choosing. Out of curiosity, do you recall what the words were?

I couldn’t, by the way.  I remembered “pirate” and “tommy gun” and “black cat” once I read it and looked for them.

And J. Michael Major’s Amazon review of 14 DARK WINDOWS:

It’s always fun to discover a new, talented author, and Scott Dyson is my latest find. The fourteen creepy tales here range from wistful and romantic (“The Moment” and “Ghost of Love”) to the horrific (“Hot Spot” and “The House at the Bend in the Road”). My personal favorites are “The Only Solution” and “America’s Pastime,” but all are wonderfully written and there is something here for everyone — just don’t read these hair-raising stories when you are alone at night! I look forward to reading more by Dyson. Buy a copy today and tell your friends about this exciting new author!

So there you have it. The results of the giveaway.

I had been debating whether to put ODD MAN OUT on promotion next month.  It’s my best cover, and I like both stories.  But I don’t know if it’s worth it.  Maybe I’ll just schedule it for a two day giveaway or something like that.

Better get something new written and published.  And soon.

Take care!  Thanks if you downloaded them.  Heck, thanks if you’re reading my blog!

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Free Promotion is here!

Started today, January 29th.  For five days only, ending February 2nd (Monday).

Two of my titles are free for Kindle on Amazon via KDP promotion.

Here are the links:

The Gateway Coverand

Jackolantern Cover

Please download them, read them, if you like them, consider leaving a review.  There are SIX (!!!) short stories contained in the two titles.  See the previous post for a description, or check out the Amazon book page for that same description.  They’re more or less flash fiction pieces.  The longest clocks in at something around 1800 words, if I recall correctly.

Thanks for grabbing them!

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Another KDP Select promo coming up…

I’m running a promotion on two of my titles, THE GATEWAY (with AMERICA’S PASTIME and HOT SPOT) and JACK’O’LANTERN (with THE MOMENT and SARAH’S PUPPY).  They will be free starting on Thursday January 29 for five days.  The promo ends on Monday, February 2.

The Gateway CoverAn imaginative boy discovers that the gateway for all evil has been opened, and his neighbor has been possessed! The fate of the whole world, or at least his neighborhood, is in his hands now. He must act to destroy the Gateway.

A 1500 word short tale of horror.

(Also found in the collection 14 Dark Windows.)

Contains two bonus stories:
America’s Pastime – a 1300 word short horror story, &
Hot Spot – a 700 word short horror story (dedicated to Dale Vincent Schwitalla)

Jackolantern CoverAs four young wanna-be Halloween vandals terrorize the far side of their neighborhood by smashing pumpkins, they encounter a jack’o’lantern that is by far the biggest and ugliest pumpkin they’ve seen this night. But this pumpkin is more than it appears.

A mild horror short story of about 1300 words.

*Also contains TWO bonus stories (NEITHER IS HORROR):
THE MOMENT (about 1500 words) and                                                                                                    SARAH’S PUPPY (about 1000 words)
And a short author’s note.

(These titles can also be found in the collection 14 Dark Windows.)

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Please feel free to download them, starting Thursday January 29.  Thank you!

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Update on Book Pricing

I just thought a quick post updating the book pricing might be interesting.  A couple posts back, I wrote that Amazon’s ebook price for DARK CITY by F. Paul Wilson was $8.54, more than my arbitrary max for a fiction ebook for myself.

So I waited.  I received a ten-dollar gift card from Barnes and Noble for Christmas, and yesterday I went into their store to browse a bit.  There was DARK CITY, retail price $8.99.  With my 10% member’s discount, it was already down to $8.09, less than the ebook price.  Okay, you might say that I already paid for that $0.90 discount with the $25.00 membership fee, and you’d be correct.  But then I also had a 20% coupon that came via email that day.  When I was not a member of B&N’s program, I rarely received coupons, and almost never received 20% coupons, except maybe at Christmas.   Plus, the $25.00 is a “sunk cost” whether I buy the book from Amazon as an ebook or from Barnes and Noble as a trade paperback.

With my 10% and the additional 20%, the cost of the book dropped to $6.47 (plus an 8.75% sales tax).  (I also bought remaindered editions of Evanovich’s 19th Stephanie Plum, a Joe Pickett novel from C.J. Box, a Robert Crais novel and a Jeffrey Deaver novel, each at 10% off their already low price, three at $5.98 and one at $6.98, so I got an additional $2.50 off besides the $0.90 on the Wilson title.  A total of $5.02 off with the coupon.)

Now watch:  I’ll go to Amazon next week and DARK CITY will be $3.99.

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UPDATE:  I went to the Amazon page to see what the price was today.  Instead of it being $8.54, it had gone up to $8.99, the exact same cost as the MMPB.  All I can do is shrug…

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Mount TBR

The to-be-read pile:  It’s something that every avid reader I know has.  There are all sorts of landscapes to be found on the slopes of this mountain for avid readers.  My own contains plenty of mystery, science fiction, horror and thrillers, but also contains books on sports, on music, on wine, on history…I don’t even know what’s in it anymore.  Only the parts I can see, which are heavy on Deaver, Connelly, Child, King, Grafton and Evanovich.   I don’t have a clue how many books are in the pile anymore.  The only thing I know for sure is that it got a whole lot bigger when I got my Kindle Fire, and while I’m pretty sure most of the content is genre fiction, I haven’t a clue how many unread books there are on that device either.

Before I got married in ’98, I lived a bachelor’s life.  I had a small house with three small bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, and one bedroom was my “music studio” with my keyboards and guitars and an old Tascam Portastudio that recorded four tracks on a cassette.  Another was my library and writing room, where my bookshelves contained my nicer hardcovers and double rows of paperback books.  Then there was my bedroom.  I wish I had a picture of the mess that it was.  For a booklover, the mess was sort of beautiful.  There were books everywhere.  Stacks lined the far walls of the room to a height of about half the distance between the windows and the floor.  At least three feet of books (the windows were small and set high), with the columns of the paperbacks lining the walls.  I don’t know how many there were.  I know that I never got to most of them, and I still have most of them, boxed, in my basement (though a few made the trip to the attic at my office).

Now my TBR stacks are confined to shelves in the basement, in my bedroom, and in our home office.  I don’t know the count, but I’d guess thirty in the bedroom, thirty in the office, and another million or so in the basement.  Oh, and then there are the ones next to my bed, in the drawers of my nightstand where they are out of sight if not out of mind.  And three or four sitting on top of the nightstand, still IN sight, and still IN mind.  Oh, and I forgot the stack that’s here at my dental office.  Probably less than twenty here.

My wife has a love-hate relationship with my Kindle.  She loves that I don’t buy as many physical books.  But she hates the attention I give to the device when I’m in the middle of reading something I love.  Something that’s fully engrossed me.  She’s not a voracious reader (and that explains it, if you are an avid reader, you’ll get it).

The Kindle has made it easy for me to pile books on Mount TBR, because the guilt about the sheer number of books is easier to deal with.  Also the cost is significantly less.  There are only a couple of authors I buy when they release a new book (King and Coben, though F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series was on that list until it was finished).  The rest either get bought off the bargain bins, or when I have a coupon to supplement my 10% B&N discount.  I still have quite the physical Mount TBR, but the virtual mountain is growing by leaps and bounds.

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Price of books…

A while back, I purchased a book by F. Paul Wilson, whose Repairman Jack series is one of my favorites.  While the series is finished (at the end), Wilson decided to write three prequels detailing the early years of Jack in NYC.  The first of these three is called COLD CITY and it was priced, at the time, at something like $3.99 as an ebook, I think.  Maybe have been a dollar more or less, but I’m certain that it was below $5.00.

I read it, enjoyed it a lot, and went to check on what the next book, DARK CITY, costs as an ebook.  I was surprised to see that it costs $8.54 on Amazon.  More than my max for an ebook for my personal use (I sometimes go higher for books for my kids).  But what surprised me even more was that the cost of the paperback is $8.99.  In the dialect of Jack’s friend Abe, “I should care how the words get from Wilson’s imagination to my brain?”

Just so we’re clear.  I have a B&N membership.  I get it usually at Thanksgiving, and it costs me $25.00.  Over the year, I believe it pays for itself, buying books for myself (mostly bargain books off the remaindered shelf where I only save about $0.70 or $0.80 per book, but I buy 10 or 15 of them a year, maybe more) and buying books for my kids (also usually around a dollar savings).  With the card, however, you also get more coupons and better coupons.  For example, toward the end of the year I was routinely getting 20% coupons every week, and I even got two 30% coupons (one of which I didn’t use).  I’ll have to track it more carefully this year.  But I’m sure it paid for itself last year, since we bought a bunch of Dr. Who stuff for the kiddies as well.

At $8.99 price point, with 10% off for certain (via the card I already have) and perhaps another 15% off via a coupon which will probably come soon via email, the final cost of the book will be $8.09 plus tax at the most, and $6.88 at best, if I wait for a 15% coupon (which I certainly can do).  So let’s see.  I get a physical copy of the book, which I can resell or give to my buddy down the road, for $6.88 plus tax, or I buy an ebook which I can’t do anything else with after I’ve read it (except read it a second time, perhaps), for $8.54 (without tax today, but as soon as Amazon opens their facility in Illinois, then with state sales tax as well).

I think I’m going for the physical copy.  Not that I care.  If the ebook was less, maybe in the $5.99 range, I wouldn’t hesitate.  It would already be on my Kindle.  I’d probably be reading it now.

Whose bright idea are those prices, anyway?

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Kindle Giveaway (via KDP Select) – Success or Failure?

So the giveaway is over.  I put two of my titles, SOLE OCCUPANT and DEAD OR ALIVE, on free promotion from Wednesday 12/10/14 to Sunday 12/14/14.  How did they do, you ask?  Well, between the two of them, I gave away 144 copies of the two short stories.  I really didn’t know what to expect as far as numbers, but it was mentioned to me by SF/Thriller author Steven M. Moore that giveaways used to be measured in the thousands and now they’re measured in the hundreds.

I piggy-backed this giveaway on the concurrent giveaway of QUANTUM ZOO, hoping for a few shares of my posts promoting both giveaways on Facebook so that I would be exposed to other authors’ fans, but the only share I got was by D.J. Gelner, the editor of QUANTUM ZOO.  (Thanks DJ!)  It did help, because instead of around a hundred people seeing my posts, close to 300 saw the first post with the links in the comments.

SOLE OCCUPANT got more downloads than DEAD OR ALIVE did, in the US by 75 to 50.  It’s a much shorter title, with two stories adding up right around 3100 words, while DEAD OR ALIVE is a single story of about 7800 words, something like that.  DEAD OR ALIVE is part of a larger “trilogy” of vampire detective stories, which I hoped might work in its favor.  SOLE OCCUPANT has a cover made by professional Rich Siegle, while DEAD OR ALIVE features a home-made cover.  I don’t think it sucks, but no way is it as good as Rich’s cover.

My hope was that perhaps I might get a paid download or three of one of the collections.  I haven’t had a paid sale in a month.  My other goal was to get a review or three.  But so far, out of 144 titles given away, there are no additional reviews, either good or bad.  I don’t know if that means that most of the downloads haven’t actually been read, so I suppose there’s still some time.

A third goal was simply to get some of my work into the hands of readers, who may or may not like it, but I figured it was worth a shot.  Tastes vary, and out of 144 tries, you’d think that maybe I might get a new reader or three.

It’s sort of depressing.  A commenter, John Ellsworth (I think) on one of my other posts suggested that I focus on writing something longer.  I have longer pieces out there, nothing approaching 80K words (the length he suggested) but maybe closing in on 50K for a couple of them.  Nothing under 23K, I think.  Mostly horror, though one of them is a mystery.

It’s sort of one of those catch-22’s, in that I want this to be a self-supporting hobby.  I am willing to pay for covers and editing, but I want to see enough earnings to suggest that it’s worth it for me to do so.  I hoped to sell enough short stories to make enough money, even if it was just a hundred bucks a month, to pay for cover art for some of these longer projects.  But it’s been a no-go.

So what should I do?  Keep writing?  (I’ll do that anyway.)  Keep publishing?  (Not as certain about that one.)  I’m dismayed by the lack of reciprocal promotion I get from authors whose works I’ve promoted on my FB page and here on the blog.  Not even a “Like” from any besides D.J. and J. Michael Major, who has also reviewed a few of my stories on Amazon.

That’s okay.  I have to admit, however, that it makes me less enthusiastic about supporting (via promotion on either here or on my FB page) other indie authors.  I’ll still support the ones I like to read by buying their books, and possibly reviewing them if the mood strikes me.

Maybe this giveaway experiment will result in sales down the road.  Maybe it will result in a few reviews, positive or negative.  But right now, I have to come down on the side of “failure” when asking myself if it was a success or failure.

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Successful giveaway?

Just a quick post to update the KDP Select promotion for two of my titles.

I’ve given away 114 ebooks in 3 1/2 days (today being the 1/2).  It’s scheduled to run through tomorrow.  (12/14/14)

Here’s the links:  SOLE OCCUPANT

DEAD OR ALIVE

It will be interesting to see if getting these two stories in the hands of readers results in any reviews of the stories or better still, any increase in sales from them.  Crossing my fingers…

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