A is for Accessible

Posted: April 29, 2016 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

After doing the post, L is for Lazy, I realized that there are so many more topics I could do with this particular format. I had already figured out at least four others I wanted to tackle. Sitting back and thinking on it, I came to the conclusion that I should have started at the beginning of the alphabet and worked my way down. I didn’t. Oh well. Live and learn, right?

Today I would like the letter A to bring you today’s topic. In other words: A is for Accessible. Let’s look at this for a couple of minutes.

Accessible is defined as easily reached, easily understood, easily, approachable, susceptible, easy for the physically challenged to use and observable from another world. I don’t know where that last one came from, but it’s in there. What we are going to focus on is the approachable aspect of accessible. Sticking with the definitions here, approachable is defined as not aloof and not difficult to talk to or meet with.

One of the easier parts of writing is talking about your work to folks who want to know about it. If you are too shy or too afraid to talk about your work, then this may not be the business for you, because if you start to get somewhere with your writing, folks are going to want to talk about, not just your work, but you as well. They are going to want to get to know you, the person, as well as you, the writer.

It’s inevitable and it can be a good thing…or a bad one.

I love when someone ask me a question about one of my stories or about the writing process or even about me as it pertains to my work. I enjoy telling them about myself and where a story came from. Years ago I couldn’t do that. I thought it was bragging, and that was something I was raised not to do. I have since come to realize it isn’t bragging if you can back it up. Most folks who brag about themselves can’t back it up. When it comes to writing, I am finally at that point where I feel I can finally put my money where my mouth is.

Though I have come to be able to talk about myself, my work and where I am at with it, it wasn’t until last year at the Cayce Festival of the Arts that I became acutely aware that what I say and what I do greatly affects me, the writer, the person, the brand. And yes, you are a brand, like it or not.

What I realized is if I don’t learn how to talk about myself, and do so with confidence, then very few people are going to buy my work. But it’s not just talking about me. It’s cultivating a relationship with the readers. It’s being on social media and interacting with them. It’s shaking hands and smiling for pictures at events. It’s signing books or pamphlets or bookmarks or even a shirt someone is wearing. It is caring about them, and no, that doesn’t mean caring to gain something. It is genuinely caring about your readers. Because here is the thing: if you don’t care, they will know. And if you are fake, they will know that, too. You have to be real, not real fake.

I want people to read my work. I want people to know who I am and to say, ‘hey, that guy is a great writer, and he is so cool, too.’ I want my readers to understand that I am just like them. The only difference is I write some pretty cool words and form them into stories.

If you’re a writer and you don’t talk about yourself or your work, then you aren’t going to go very far. You have to put in the work to get anything out of it. That means making yourself accessible to readers–also known as fans–and giving them a reason to want your work. What sets you apart? Why should I care? Why should I buy something from you? Give me a reason to support you with my money and my time and my word of mouth. The only way to do that is to be accessible.

Are you on social media? Get to know the people on your friends list or the folks that you follow. Do you have a blog? Give the readers something to look forward to. Give them a free short story or a teaser to an upcoming book. Do you have a website? Change the content of it as frequently as you can, no less than once a week. Do things for the readers. It’s hard, but with a bit of work and dedication and honesty, you will find that more readers will seek you out and more folks will want to know you, and hopefully that turns into sales.

On the same token, if you are a jerk or if you respond negatively to a bad review or comment made about you or your work, then that news will spread like wildfire and those same readers you wanted will vanish in a hurry. It is a difficult line to toe because we are human and we have feelings and when someone says something negative about us or our work, then we get defensive. We get mad. We get rude. And then we say or do something that kills our brand. Think I’m kidding? I’ve seen it happen over and over. And it’s not pretty.

Being accessible doesn’t mean letting folks take over all of your time or tell you how to do what you do best. Being accessible is about being able to relate to readers and connecting with them. It’s letting them see a small part of you, the part that helps them make up their mind if they like you or not, and in return will take a chance on your work.

If you are a writer, being accessible is part of the business—a necessary part. With social media being the engine that drives the car, it is easier to be accessible now than ever before. What are you waiting for?

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

 

If you have followed this space for any length of time, then you know I enjoy doing interviews with folks I like. Most of those folks are writers or publishers. Some of them, like Christy Thornbrugh, is neither. However, she is linked to the writing world that I am a part of. You see, back in January, my book A Stitch of Madness was published by Stitched Smile Publications. A couple of weeks later I received a very unique gift in the mail. It was a patch and it is so totally cool.

After receiving the patch, I wanted to get to know Christy a little better. I found out she is a genuinely nice person who truly enjoys helping people. One evening, we sat, she in her world, me in mine, and we chatted.

ASOM PatchEnjoy.

AJ: Christy, let’s start with a little bit about you. Tell me who is Christy Thornbrugh?

CT: She is a Wife and a mother. She is family oriented. A horror and zombie lover. I love to read and watch all horror and zombie movies. On Facebook I am admin of Zombie Book of the Month and the Mike Evans Fan Club.

I enjoy helping others when i can.

AJ: You enjoy helping others where you can? How do you help others?

CT: I volunteer at the school once a week for the teachers. I do what I can to help the author community by sharing and talking and buying books. A lot of my daughters’ friends’ moms cannot sew so I am always helping them with things they need fixed. I just volunteer my time when its needed. I baby sit for a friend of mine in the summer so she does not have to pay someone. She is a single mom who needs that money for her family.

AJ: Those are all great things, things that a lot of folks don’t do for others. Sadly, we live in a time where people are only concerned about themselves, so it is refreshing to see someone offer their time and services to others. If you don’t mind, I would like to focus on one of them.

CT: Yes, sir

AJ: You said “I do what I can to help the author community by sharing and talking and buying books.” It’s pretty important for authors to have folks who will do that. Why is it important for you to do it?

CT: I review as well. I did not realize how hard it was for authors to get people to find and buy their work, and then also leave a review. I really thought reviews were not a big deal, until I became friends with a lot of authors and I started to see how important it is for fans and friends to help them by getting the word out and let them know how important it is, as well as to share and review.

AJ: You are absolutely correct–reviews are crucial, and so is telling others about the books, Word of mouth can go a long way. But you do something that I have never seen before. You also incorporate your sewing into promotional items for these authors, correct?

CT: Yes, it is. I started to make embroidery patches as author swag. I made some patches for a friend of mine that he wanted of his grandpa and all his grandkids’ names. Then I got emailed and asked ‘what do you think you can do to make a patch for my book?’ It’s a blast working with everyone on them and working on ideas to create the best patch we can to represent their book. And the fans have loved it.

Embroidery by Christy LogoAJ: Do you get author input on the patches or do you come up with them on your own and run with it?

CT: I like to get author input on them. There have been some that say ‘I trust you. Let me see what you can do.’ They will say zombie something or another and ‘I work my magic.’ If i get a blank and cannot think of anything I will ask them what a major factor is in their book or what the fans love the most. If I had not read it have them tell me a little on it.

AJ: And you have become quite popular with this talent. People want these. Not just the fans but the authors, too. Am I right?

CT: Yes, sir. It seems in the last few months word of mouth has been doing wonders for me. I had a few others say ‘I have heard all about your awesome patches, tell me more.’ I just love it.

AJ: How does it make you feel to hear all this? I know you said you love it, but how does it really make you feel about your work?

CT: Honestly, I get scared and worried with every order that something is not right or it does not look good and that they will hate it. I think it’s an artist thing. But once they get it and say they love it I feel relieved and great. It’s a good feeling that I am making something people love and it makes them happy, so that makes me happy. I have patches now in the UK, Romania and Sweden. I tease my kids and say your mom is worldwide with her patches.

AJ: Worldwide is a great thing. You also just hit on something that I think every author (or artist, for that matter) struggles through: fear that something will not be right and people will not like it. Tell me, for you, what is that like?

CT: It’s a scary feeling, I guess I see imperfections on everything, but everyone else says they are perfect. I think it’s having people judge you and wondering if your work will be accepted

AJ: It is good to see someone who is not a writer understand that aspect. That is what we go through every single time we put something out for someone to read. It is scary. It really is.

Tell me about your favorite patch you made for an author.

Mark Tufo Patch Image for CT InterviewCT: That is mean. That’s like asking what your favorite book is that you wrote. Seems like I will make one and it will be my new favorite, and not saying to suck up but i truly loved your patch. I will have to go with the one I made for Mark Tufo, as his was the first author patch that I made.

AJ: Now, you make these for publishers as well, right?

CT: Yes. I already have. I made some for Stitched Smile Publications.

AJ: So, this has become kind of like a side business for you, then?

CT: For some reason I still see it as a working hobby. I do it out of my house. I wanted something to help my family so I can stay home with my kids

AJ: A working hobby is a good thing, as long as you continue to enjoy the hobby.

CT: I do enjoy it a lot.

AJ: Since this is a working hobby, do you take orders?

CT: Yes. I take small or big orders. It does not matter to me. As long as it’s something I can do I will. There is a T-shirt shop in our town and I do embroidery for them. Also here in town, friends or people who hear about me will bring things for me to embroidery for them. I have a Facebook page and a Etsy shop.

I get orders from FB friends as well. They want something special on a hat or shirt or their own patch of some kind.

AJ: What is the largest order you have ever had?

CT: The largest order from Facebook was 100 patches. The largest order from a business in town was about 75 hats and 20 shirts

AJ: Wow. With orders that large, it probably takes a while to do. How long does it take you to do one patch and does it go faster after you’ve done a certain patch a few times?

CT: With it just being me both those took 4 or 5 days each. I am lucky to have understanding customers with things like that. Depending on the size and detail in a patch it can take about 30 mins or so to do one. But if the order is more than one I use a larger hoop and my machine can do more than one. Most of the time I can fit 6 patches in one hoop so that takes out the set up time for it.

I set up stabilizer, get the patch material in in the hoop, then stitch it out. Then I add the iron on backing to it and trim and seal (burn) the edges of each patch so they don’t fray or fall apart.

AJ: That is a lot to do (or it seems like a lot).

CT: It does seem like a lot. it’s steps that need to be done. Just like with your writing. You need your editor and betas and I am sure other steps but it just takes time to make each one great.

AJ: How long have you been doing this and what got you into it?

CT: I have been making patches for authors for a couple of years, but I have been embroidering for twelve. I started sewing when I had my first daughter, who is thirteen now. I started making her clothes and things and I wanted to add more detail so got a small cheap machine. And grew from there

AJ: And you have been doing it ever since.

CT: Yes, I have. I’ve been teaching my girls to sew now.

AJ: And do they enjoy it as much as their mom?

CT: No not really. LOL. But they like the fact that they can make something their selves with help. It was funny, though, when my teen had a home economics class, they did a sewing project this year. Everyone asked her questions and how to do things when the teacher was busy, since she knew how to sew already

AJ: Nice. Christy, we’re going to wrap up here soon, but would you mind telling me how and where we can order your work?

CT: Embroidery by Christy Facebook Page

My Etsy page.

Email -tigger15623@hotmail.com

AJ: Outstanding, Christy. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to tell everyone about your working hobby?

CT: I would just like everyone to know that I do my best to make what they want. Each item is made by me. I do my best to keep prices affordable. And that they should feel good when ordering for me as it’s not going to a huge company that needs to pay for their three houses. It helps pay for my kid’s lunches, school supplies, clothes they need and things for them.

AJ: Very nice. A small business with small business needs.

CT: Very true

AJ: Thank you, Christy, for your time. I’m going to let you get back to doing what you love to do.

CT: You are welcome. Thank you for your time and allowing me to share my embroidery.

Y’all, give Christy a shout out, a hello, an order or ten. She’s a classy lady with a big heart.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

This blog is brought to you by the letter L. Rebel LDoes that take you back? If you know the reference then you, sir or ma’am, might be awesome.

Sesame Street was one of my favorite shows when I was growing up. That and The Price Is Right could keep me entertained all morning. If you have seen the show, then you know that many of the skits on it had to do with that letter (or whatever the number of the day was). In this case we’ll make the number of the day 1. Why, because this is the first blog in a series.

Let me go ahead and apologize right now. Some folks might get upset with some of what I am going to say. If so, well…yeah, it is what it is. Here is something that is a truth about writers: we don’t tend to speak our minds completely when writing our blogs or tweeting or Facebooking. Some of us don’t want to offend readers or other writers, and others of us just don’t care who we offend and sitting in front of a monitor or mobile device makes it easy to be who we are not. Then there are those that have that happy medium, in which they can speak the truth in a manner so eloquent that even if it is offensive it doesn’t come across that way. This is a hard place to get to. Those are the ones who can balance out being real and honest, yet not offend people. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

So, let’s get to this.

L is for Lazy. There. It’s out there. Lazy is defined (as an adjective) as unwilling to work or use energy.

Lazy is often used for someone who just won’t do anything, even if it will benefit that person. Here is another truth: a lot of writers fall into this category. I did not say all, and I did not say a majority of writers. I said a lot of writers fall into this category. If you aren’t one of them, then none of this applies to you. However, if you are one of them, maybe you should listen up.

First, let me clarify something. I am not a well-known writer. I have my fans and I have my roadies and I have folks who may or may not like my work. They may be few (or they may be many, I don’t know), but they are loyal. Since I am not a King or a Koontz or a Patterson you may not want to listen to me. You may not think that what I have to say matters since I am not of the ranks of the masters. If that is the case, just go ahead and click the X in the upper right hand corner. I’ll wait.

Now that everyone is done clicking the X, I hope there are some of you still out there willing to hear me out.

So, you are a writer. Great. So, you have a computer hard drive full of stories. Great. So, you want people to read them. Great. Where are you getting the readers from? The reading pool is dwindling, so where are you getting them? More importantly, how are you getting them?

For the sake of argument, let’s say you get a book published by a publisher. In order to get to that stage, you’ve done a little bit of work already. You’ve written a story. Hopefully, you cleaned it up. You researched the market for a publisher. You submitted it. Then you waited (and that is hard to do). Your story got accepted (Yay You!). Edits were done. I hope you approved or disapproved (some, if warranted) them. Then you approved the cover art, right?

Screeeeek

Stop. Before the book was published did you promote it at all? Did your publisher promote it? Did you tell your friends and family? Did you contact the local newspaper and see if they would do a piece on it? Did you post it on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and…and…and…all of the other social media platforms you could find? Did you try things like Thunderclap? Did you have an online book release party? Did you generate buzz for the book?

You didn’t? Okay. Well, that’s unfortunate, but hey, you can still salvage your sells.

Your book has been published now. How are you promoting it? One post on social media a week? Well, that’s a start. What about blogging? What about a website? What about Facebook groups and author take overs? What about trying to get on podcasts or have interviews done on local radio shows? How about trying the local paper again? What about the library? Many libraries like local authors. How about book conventions or festivals?

Have you done any of these? If not, you’re killing your book, your publisher and your career.

‘But it’s the publisher’s job.’

Well…yes and no. Yes, the publisher should promote and market your book. That is part of how they do business. They should have a marketing plan that goes beyond Facebook. They should also work with you, the author, on this marketing plan so that it fits both parties’ needs. So, yes, it is the publisher’s job.

It is your job as well. Here is why: it is your book and your book will only be as successful as you make it. First you have to write a good book, have it edited (not by yourself), and get it published. But then the work really begins. Promoting your own work is vital to the success of your book, and in turn, you. If you want to leave it up to the publisher to do all of the marketing, go right ahead. Unless your publisher has some big bucks there is a good chance the publisher can only reach so many.

This is where you come in. This is where you cannot be lazy. You have social media. Use it. Don’t spam people, but use social media to post pictures of the cover, links so people can purchase the book, write blogs, not just for you, but for other writers’ blogs. If you just do one thing a day it will help get your name out there and get the book out there.

You think I’m nuts, don’t you? Well, look at it this way: say you want a job, so you go out and you put in an application at one place and then you wait for that one place to call you and say, ‘hey, you’ve got the job.’ Unless your resume is phenomenal and you are great in that field, chances are you’re going to be waiting around for a long while. You either don’t really want a job or you are very confident in yourself. Most of the time it’s the former of the two.

In order to get a job, you’re not just going to put in one application. You’ll put in several and then you will follow up with the jobs that you applied to. Eventually the people at a place of employment is going to say, ‘hey, this person keeps contacting us, maybe they really do want a job.’ By constantly saying, ‘her I am,’ the employers eventually notice you. If you don’t do that, most of them don’t notice you.

If you don’t market your own books, how do you expect readers to find you? If you don’t say, ‘here I am’ how do you expect people to know you have written a book?

Look at it this way: The readers are your employers. You wanCookie monster Lt to get a job with them as their author of choice. You have to put in the application (that would be the story, and getting it published is the resume). Then you have to let them know you are seriously interested in the job. This requires you to do something besides write. This requires you to not sit on the sidelines while the publisher does all of the marketing. Because here are two truths: 1: Some publishers do not market their writers. It’s counterproductive, but it happens more than we think. 2: If the publisher has ten books out, then that publisher is marketing and promoting ten books. If you do the simple math that would be ten percent of their marketing time and promotions goes to your book. If you market your own work, one hundred percent of your time and promotions can go to your book.

But wait, there is more. Don’t just market your work. Get to know the authors under the publisher’s umbrella. Talk to them. Then, once you know each other, promote their work as well. In return, hopefully, they will promote your work. This not only helps you, but it helps other authors and the publisher. The more you, as the author, promote your own work (and others) the better chance you have of getting further along in this business.

But…but…but…that’s a lot of work!

Well, yeah. And this is where L is for Lazy comes into play. You see, so many writers complain about why they aren’t doing well, why their books aren’t selling. What are the other folks doing that I am not? You know, things like that. If you rely solely on the publisher to market you, then you are not doing your share of the work. The publisher can only do so much. You, the writer, have to take control of your work. If you want it to go somewhere you have to grab the bull by the horns and make it go the way you want it to. That isn’t going to happen without saying, ‘hey, here I am. Come read my work.’

This is not a business for lazy folks. It’s a business for hard working people. The lazy need not apply. If you are lazy and you have the mindset of ‘I’m the author, let the publisher and everyone else promote me,’ then please, stop. You’re just hurting yourself and no one really wants to hear the complaining when things don’t go your way.

One more truth before I go: Do you like when someone waste your time? Do you like when you feel like you could have done something better with the time you lost because of someone else? It’s somewhat infuriating, isn’t it? Well, if someone believes in you enough to publish your book and market it, and you do nothing, then you are wasting their time. You are wasting their efforts. And no one likes their time and efforts to be wasted. No one. Not me. Not you. Not the publisher. Not the readers.

I, personally, do not like lazy people. It’s probably my biggest pet peeve. I can’t stomach it. At all. Part of that is because the lazy folks I know tend to blame everyone else for nothing going right for them, when all they had to do was help themselves and use a little bit of energy and things would have gone in a different way.

L is for Lazy. I beg you, if you are of the mindset that you are a writer and not a marketer, please, for your own sake, change that. If you don’t, you will find yourself wondering, ‘why is no one buying my book?’ And you might even blame someone else for this. It’s like being blind to something important—you just won’t see the truth.

I hope some of you stuck around until the end. And if so, I will say what I always say: until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

 

The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Posted: March 23, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Here we are, you and I, on this page, me writing, you reading. It’s a good combination if you ask me. We both get what we want, right? I get to write something cool. You get to read something cool. Does that sound good to you? I hope so, because it sure does to me.

Let me make a confession: I didn’t start out enjoying writing fiction. As a matter of fact, I hated it. In school I wrote the bare minimum to get a passing grade. I did enjoy writing songs and jokes and things like that, but fiction…meh.

Let me be even more honest with you. When I began enjoying the act of writing fiction, I did it solely for me. I wasn’t any good at it, though I thought I was. The key word here is thought. I believed, like so many other writers, that I could be the next Stephen King. And why not? He was (and still is) my favorite author, and up to that point I had read everything he had written, and it didn’t seem that difficult, so why couldn’t I be as good, if not better, than he is?

Ummm…because I sucked. That’s why. And, worse than that, I wasn’t really trying to get better. I was just putting words in front of words. Do you want proof of how bad I wrote when I first started? I apologize now for what you are about to read.

[[“How are you doing, other than being pissed at Bryan?” Chris asked.

“I’m okay, I guess . . .“ she started to say.

“Don’t you have work to do?” Bryan questioned as he came around the corner.

“Go screw yourself!” Lindsey exclaimed.

“I’d rather screw you.”

“Enough, Bryan!” Chris intervened.

“Yeah, go ahead and take up for your piece of meat . . .“

“Bryan, I said that’s enough,” Chris said without raising his voice.

“What’s wrong, Chris? Don’t like the way I act toward your whore?” Bryan yelled.

Stepping toward Bryan, Chris grabbed his shirt and put a finger in his face. He got close enough to kiss Bryan if that was what he wanted to do.  Fortunately, that was not his intentions.]]

This was written way back when I first started, nearly 20 years ago. It is amateurish, at best, second grade level, at worst. Or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s from a piece titled, Mirror Mirror and it really, really sucked. But at the time, I wasn’t trying to get published. I was just writing and enjoying it and not getting any better.

Then I was asked, ‘why don’t you try to get published?’

I said, ‘why not? I’m pretty good.’

Delusional. That’s what I was.

Still, I managed to get something published. It took exactly one hundred rejections, but it finally happened. I will tell you this: getting published is like a drug. Once it happens, you want it to happen again and again and again. And it did happen again and again and again, and I really thought I would be rolling in the dough once people knew who I was.

I am the next Stephen King, baby. That was my mindset.

Then reality happened. I subbed a story to a publisher and he responded with a curt letter that said, and I’m paraphrasing here because the sting from it was bad: you should never write another story again.

I was brought down by one rejection letter. Forget all the other ones. They didn’t matter. They were mostly form rejections that didn’t really mean anything to me. However, that one was personal. It was an insult to my abilities. I stewed for quite a while on that one, even ranting and raving to my wife about it.

Do you want some more honesty? I got mad. I still didn’t write for the readers. I wrote to prove that editor wrong. For the next several years I wrote angry, but I still didn’t get any better. That only happened much later when I joined an online writing group. I met some great folks who taught me quite a bit about writing and about patience. I learned.

Though I became a better writer, I still wasn’t all that great. I was lazy. I didn’t want to work to make myself better. I was in a hurry to write crappy story after crappy story. Here is where rubber meets the road: I had a lot of people telling me I was good, and a lot of people publishing my work, so I thought I was good. But I wasn’t. If I was, then those people would have paid me for the work and I would have had the courage to submit more to paying markets. As it stood, I was comfortable in those non-paying markets. They stroked my weak ego. And I wrote, not because I enjoyed it or because of the art of it or even because I wanted to entertain the readers. Nope. I wrote because I wanted my ego stroked. I wanted to feel like I was good at something I truly wasn’t. Believe me I felt good about it for a while.

Then Reality Check #2 happened. Remember, I thought I was good. I thought I was great. I still thought I was the next Stephen King. I just hadn’t been discovered yet. What an idiot. I thought wrong.

I began inquiring about putting out a short story collection. I had a bunch of publications under my belt and I was good. No. I was great. Everyone wanted my work. Are you ready for the sting? I submitted my query to a publishing company I respected. They put out good books and the owner was fairly well known. I enquired about doing a collection with them. The following is the exchange in e-mails that took place after my enquiry:

Are you the A.J. Brown who has stories published in this anthology and that anthology and this anthology? (names of publications withheld on purpose)

My instant thought was, he has heard of me. So I responded. Yes, I am.

I waited.

And waited.

And never heard back from him.

You may say, that’s rude. You may say, maybe his e-mail response got lost in the ether. You may say, maybe he never received your reply to his question. That is well and good, but I am almost certain none of that occurred. What I believe happened is this: he knew who I was, but not for anything good, so when I responded with a proud, yes, I am, he already knew he wasn’t going to work with me. There’s no need for him to respond, after all, I’d get the message after a while, right?

Well, yeah, actually, I did. Though he never responded, I heard him loud and clear. After allowing myself a bit of a pity party, I stopped and looked at everything I had ever done up to that point. Most of it was just okay. Some of it was bad. There were a handful of pieces that were actually good.

That was in 2010.

It was then that I decided to take a hard look at my writing style and voice. Everything I had written up to that point was void of emotion, void of any real character development, void of good dialogue, void of good writing. A lot of what I wrote was the same regurgitated crap that everyone else was putting out. It was then that I made the conscious effort to become a better writer. It was then that I decided I was not going to do what everyone else was doing. It was then that I decided to be my own writer.

It was then that I began to get better. I developed the style and voice I use now. I stopped believing in plot and formulaic writing and said, ‘hey, I’m just going to write and not worry about everyone else.’ I’m going to tell stories I want to hear.

Are you okay for one more truth? I hope so, because this is somewhat of a confession that I think most writers will not make, though I believe it to be true for the majority of us.

I do not write for you, the readers.

If you did not click the little X in the upper right corner, then that means you want to hear the rest of this. For that, I am thankful. If you have just a couple more minutes, let me explain my statement, which comes after having thought a ton on the subject.

I do not write for you, the readers. I write for me, the reader. I write what I want to read. I write the things that I enjoy reading. I don’t write like everyone else on purpose. And here is the truth within the truth: if I do not like what I write, then how can I expect you, the readers, to like what I write? That’s the bottom line.

Do I want to entertain the readers? Sure. Do I want them to like my stories? Absolutely. Do I write for them? No. I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m just telling you truth. It sounds nice to say ‘I write for the reader.’ It sounds noble. It is endearing to hear. It’s just not true.

Don’t miss this, though. As I said a couple of paragraphs up, I write for myself, I write what I like. Don’t miss this: if I don’t enjoy the story I write, how can I expect you to enjoy it? If we are honest with ourselves and you, then we will all admit that we write for ourselves, for our enjoyment, because we know if we believe it is good and if we truly enjoy it, then you will, as well. I repeat, don’t miss this, don’t miss how important it is for us, the writers, to write what we like and enjoy. By doing it that way the end product is so much better for you, the readers. If we do it the other way; if we write for anyone but ourselves to start with, then you get the same crap I put out for the first 10 or so years of me pursuing publishing.

Bottom line? I write for myself so you don’t crap in the end.

As always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A Chat With Jennifer Miller

Posted: March 6, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

This year I have received the honor of being invited into the 2016 edition of The Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror. This anthology is put together by the very nice Jennifer Miller. She and I sat down, computer screen to computer screen, and had a chat one evening in late February.

A.J.: Jenna Miller, tell me a little about you.

J.M.: Well, I’m 38 years old. I live in the Rocky Mountains. I have three gorgeous kids (my inspiration). I love the outdoors, video games, various crafts, writing and helping other writers.

A.J.: Video games? A woman after my own heart. Which video games do you like to play?

J.M.: LOL – Oh, you know, they change. I’m a huge fan of MMOs, so currently that’s Lord of the Rings Online (so fun). I love Magic the Gathering, so I’m really into that new Magic: Puzzle Quest (for mobile), and those two are all I’ve really been playing lately.

A.J.: I have never played Magic the Gathering—I hear it is addictive.

J.M.: To say there are a few decks around here is an understatement. We all like to play (the kids too), but I almost prefer digital versions to real cards.

A.J.: I love Munchkin. Have you ever played that one?

J.M.: No. I’ve heard it’s fun though.

A.J.: It’s ridiculously fun. It’s like a goofy version of Magic.

Let’s see, you write?

J.M.: Sometimes.

A.J.: What do you like to write?

J.M.: I’m drawn to dark fiction, mostly horror, though I do like to do darker fantasy and sci-fi as well.

A.J.: How long have you been writing, Jenna?

LGOH CoverJ.M.: I’ve been writing forever, but only more seriously since 2005, after my daughter was born.

A.J.: Was she part of your inspiration to write seriously?

J.M.: Not really. Though I did write a lot of my first novel while holding (feeding) her. A lot of it was that I had always wanted to. Then a buddy of mine had been published, and that was like a kick in the pants. I knew that if he could do it, I could do it.

A.J.: So it became proving ground for you? Did you have to prove to yourself that you could do it?

J.M.: In a lot of ways, yes. As you probably know, a lot of writers, or any artists really, are not often all that confident in what they are capable of. I’m no different, though I’m a wee bit more confident now than I was back then.

A.J.: Did the publishing help you get your confidence?

J.M.: It did, and it didn’t. It did, because I did it! It didn’t, because the publisher I went with (my mistake for not doing research on them beforehand) was a total scam.

But, because of that, I met people who read my stuff and liked it, and published it. I made friends who encouraged me. THAT gave me the confidence to really write and also made me want to do that for others. A lot of the time, all it takes is one person to believe in you. I have people who did that for me, and I like to do it for others.

A.J.: I know exactly what you mean. All it takes is one person to believe in you. So you help other writers now? What do you do to help them?

J.M.: Well, I run a writer’s group through Facebook called, Word Weavers. I try to post things that encourage creative writing. I invite other writers to ask questions, seek advice, start discussions, etc.

I work with a few writers behind the scenes with their editing and writing skills (mainly new writers who have come to the group or through my anthologies).

And that brings me to the anthologies I do. Though, it hasn’t been plural in a couple years. I run two anthologies, The Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror and The Ladies and Gentlemen of Fantasy. In both I encourage, both old hats and new writers, to contribute, hone their craft, and challenge them to a unique writing experience.

A.J.: Word Weavers? Tell me about that. How did that come to be?

J.M.: It was actually a few of us who all had that first scam publisher – and we wanted to start a group for writers by writers that would help fight against things like that. It evolved from there to doing weekly spotlights to promote our authors, we made trading cards (like MTG cards, but for writers we used them like virtual business cards), we encouraged folks to social network, make writer buddies, share publications that were accepting subs, give and seek advice, ask and answer questions, etc. etc.

That was all on MySpace. Once we migrated here, the group kind of died, but we still post things weekly, and I still even offer to make trading cards now and again.

We even did a few anthologies through the group – which is what got me started on my own.

A.J.: Do you have this group on FB also?

J.M.: We do – though we don’t do near as much with it now as we used to. Mainly it’s me posting weekly writing prompts and challenges, as well as a thread for folks to promote themselves each week. Word Weavers Facebook Page

A.J.: Let’s talk about LGOH. How did that come about?

J.M.: Well in 2007 I wanted to start an anthology series that would feature women in horror. I wanted to have photos and more in-depth biographies so that people could learn more about the writers behind the stories. I wanted to call it Ladies of Horror.

At the time, a few of our guy friends thought I should do one for men as well, The Gentlemen of Horror.

I did one in 2008, and started another, then I had life hit pretty hard, so I handed it off to an indie publisher, who put out the 2009 edition. I got the rights back at the end of 2010 and started again in 2013.

I feature seven men and seven women in each edition. They are each allowed 10k words of horror fiction used how they see fit (though it is less if flash or poetry). Each contributor gets an in-depth bio and photos.

It gets better every year, and I’ve worked with some amazing writers and artists over the last three years, and I hope that I’ll get to work with many more over many more years.

A.J.: What makes LGOH different from the other anthologies out there?

J.M.: I feel there’s two things that make it different. One is how I run it. I do “invite only” in which writers must query beforehand with sample writing and reasons for wanting to do the anthology. Then I decide who to invite. Then I invite, and then we work on the writing, the bios, the photos.

And that is the second thing. The bios. They are longer than the norm at around 700 words. They contain more information than most “little blurb” bios. And, they are written by other contributors. I pair up the writers in male/female teams and they write the biographies for their partners (not their own), so that is unique. Then I ask for four photos to lace in, to show more of who they are.

I can add a third in that each contributor section is unique and can have anywhere from one epic yarn to ten pieces of poetry and flash and anything you can think of in between.

A.J.: And you try to make it fun?

J.M.: I do. I also try to encourage each group to social network, make friends, expand their “groups,” so to speak, as each year I do get writers from all over, new and old, and some who have worked together, and some who never have at all.

I add them all to a little FB group and try to keep them as in the loop as I can about what I’m doing (editing, formatting, herding cats, promo stuff, whatever) and how things are going at each stage of the anthology.

A.J.: Am I correct in saying all the profits go to charity?

J.M.: Yes, everything that we get in royalties from both KDP and Createspace I send to The American Cancer Society. I do this in May and October (which is, just before each anthology comes out, on Halloween for Horror and April fools for the fantasy (but, there has not been a fantasy last year or this year – next year’s is in the planning stages, woot!)). I don’t recoup any costs. Every penny that comes in from sales goes to them.

A.J.: That is awesome. How has your experience been with the authors of LGOH?

J.M.: I have worked with some of the most amazing and wonderful people. The writers who contribute to the LGOH are really dedicated, caring and fantastic people to work with and have fun with. I love getting to know them and their work each year.

A.J.: So, what is slated for you, the writer, in the future?

J.M.: This year I am a Lady of Horror, so I’m working on one big story for that. Then I am re-doing my personal anthology, Ceremony of Chaos. And lastly, my son and I are working on a project (slowly) that will be a web based choose your own (dark) adventure kind of thing in which we’ve got a couple other writers on hand who will be helping us with.

“Who will be helping”? That reads funny.

A.J.: Yeah, it reads funny, but that’s okay.

I have a couple more questions, one of which revolves around your son. He has taken up writing, right?

J.M.: Yes, he has – fairly diligently as well.

A.J.: Is he following in his mom’s footsteps?

J.M.: Gods, I hope not! I hope he does better than I do. But in all seriousness, yeah, I think that’s part of his reasoning behind wanting to write in the first place. However, now that he’s done it, like the rest of us, he finds he wants and needs to.

A.J.: That is an awesome influence to have on your child. I bet that felt good the first time he told you he wanted to give it a try.

J.M.: It really did. I was hard on him though, which made me feel awful, but I knew I needed to be.

A.J.: Wow!. Crack the whip.

Okay, Jenna, one more thing, and I’ll let you go. Where can readers find you?

J.M.: My website is probably the best place and that is: Jennifer Miller’s Dark Fiction

A.J.: Jenna, thank you so much for your time.

J.M.: You rock. Thank you.

A.J.: Any time, any time.

You guys, please check Jenna out. She’s a great person and I have been fortunate to have known her for a while and to see her vision with the LGOH anthology. Also, all the proceeds go to The American Cancer Society, so not only can you get a great book, but you can also help a worthwhile cause.

Thank you for reading, and as always, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2015

In the short time Stitched Smile Publications has been around, they have put out three separate works of fiction. One of those was released on February 17th. It is by David Owain Hughes and Alice J. Black. The novella is titled, Granville. Here is the synopsis for the book:

Stanley is a typical high school student trying to find his way through the hierarchy of study and popularity. Nobody wants to spend time with him and even his crush turned him down nine times. He spends most of his time alone in the house, cursing his mother and blaming her for driving his father away. He has a preoccupation with all things horror and his love goes beyond just watching the movies; he wants to be the star of the show.

Making masks started as a hobby that soon becomes a practiced ritual and finally, when he has the right mask and slips it on over his head, he realizes that he is transformed. He is no longer Stanley but Granville, a masked warrior who intends to get payback for all the wrongs done to him and he will hold no punches.

The town is on lock down, the people terrified of this hideous killer, all the while he waits and plans his final masterpiece before taking off.

On the day of the release, SSP threw an online Release Party. I was only able to attend the last half of the event, but in that time, I got to know Alice and David and we talked a little about Granville.

(Side Note: Being an online party, there were a few interjections into our conversation.)

AJ: Alice, David, tell me about Granville. I read the description for it, and it sounds right up my alley.

Alice: Stanley is a loner, a young boy who is pushed too far one day and snaps. He takes things into his own hands and as his degradations get worse, so do his masks…

AJ: Let’s talk concepts: David, Alice, where did the concept for this story come from?

David: I think it first started with myself – I had this idea about a hapless teen who wanted to be a serial killer. I was looking to co-write a second project with Alice.

AJ: So, then you two have worked together before?

David: Yes, this is actually our second novella.

Alice: Yeah we wrote a novella length creature feature…#

David: The first is currently in the hands of a publisher, but we can’t release details.

AJ: Nice. Tell me about Stanley?

David: He’s your typical horror geek, who has a crush on a girl at school he can’t get.

AJ: Is he somewhat of an outcast?

David: Oh, very much so. He’s pretty much tortured by his peers. He’s a ghost to the tutors. Faceless, nameless.

AJ: Bullied?

David: Yes, mentally and physically.

AJ: So, he is essentially there, but no one likes him or takes the time to get to know him? They just kind of push him around.

David: Yes, spot on. Nobody cares about Stanley – he’s a punch bag.

AJ: That’s sad.

AJ: So, Granville. That is WHO he becomes, correct?

David: Yes, that’s right.

Jennifer H: I read it and it was an excellent book. Very twisted and dark. Twists and turns you wouldn’t expect

AJ: If David had anything to do with it, I know it is dark and probably somewhat disturbing.

Jennifer H: Have you read any of his others and which ones?

AJ: I’ve read some of David’s work. Not a ton, but enough to know that his mind is a bit dark.

Jennifer H: Great I will have to look up his stuff.

AJ: Alice, when you two sat to write this, did you write one part and David write another one and you mashed it together in the end? How did the collaboration of this story go?

Alice: When we wrote, we wrote a section each, maybe 1-2k words and then emailed it across and the next person started from there until we hashed it all out. We did the same with editing.

AJ: Very nice. A true collaboration. Did either of you, at any point, not like something the other one had written and discuss it with each other to make sure it came out right?

Alice: I have to be honest and say no. It all flowed so well. We obviously changed a few bits during editing but that’s natural.

AJ: At any point during the writing of Granville, did either of you say, eh, maybe we should scale back on this scene? And did you scale back if that were the case?

Alice: I don’t think that ever came up! If anything it was pouring more on.

David: I always go out guns blazing! I don’t like holding anything back.

AJ: David, I expect nothing less from you.

David: Have you picked up something of mine prior to this?

AJ: David, I’ve read a few of your pieces online. Something for Horror Geeks I think was the last thing I read.

David: Cool. I’ve written a lot of dark, twisted stuff. I can’t get enough of it!

AJ: You also have a book with BWP, right?

David: Two, one novel and one collection of short stories.

AJ: Very nice

AJ: Of the two of you, which do you think has the darker side?

Alice: Um I think it’s hard to say. We both have dark sides. I think David is a little more explicit with his while I tend to stay a little more somber but in our own ways, we’re both very dark.

David: I think our difference in dark styles very much suit our co-writing team.

AJ: David, in what way? That intrigues me.

David: One will do something different to the other – subtly and brute force mix well.

Alice: I found I learned a lot from David. I often shy away from the more explicit side of horror, and working with him made me consider why and branch out in my own writing.

David: Alice, that’s nice of you to say.

AJ: So playing off of each other’s strengths also strengthened your own styles?

David: Oh, definitely.

AJ: Then your styles fit well together. That is good to hear. I have only done a couple of collaborations, and it has been a LONG time since I did my last one, but I loved trying to fit our styles together.

David: Alice and I get on so well – she’s like my little sister.

AJ: I’m jealous. I don’t have a writing partner like that.

David: I’m lucky in that respect. I think she only keeps me around for the laughs.

AJ: Most women keep men around for the laughs. They don’t need us.

Alice: That’s not true!

David: Which part?

Alice: We don’t just keep men around for the laughs.

AJ: You mean there are other reasons? I need to talk to my wife about this.

Alice: Haha. Maybe you should.

AJ: Alice, I think you and I are going to get along quite well.

Alice: Me too!

AJ: I know when I finish a particularly good story, I want to celebrate. When you finished Granville, did you smoke a cigarette or drink a beer?

Alice: I’m not sure I did! I was very excited about it but it wasn’t until we were accepted for publication that I really celebrated.

AJ: Tell me about the process of getting Granville published.

Alice: David could probably tell you more because he did a lot of leg work on this one

David: It was luck, I guess. I’d done some work for Lisa Vasquez and saw she was taking submissions.

AJ: So you subbed and she accepted, eh?

David: Yeah, she knew of me and my work.

AJ: Alice, tell me a little about YOU?

Alice: Um…I write mostly horror but I like to write other stuff to. I have a novel out which is a YA supernatural. That one is my baby! But I’ve got a lot of shorts out in anthologies and a novel series in the works

AJ: Tell me about the novel, if you don’t mind.

Alice: The novel is called The Doors. It’s about a young girl called Amanda who is made to move down the country when her dad gets a new job. They move into Godfrey Hall but from the get go, she doesn’t like it. There are a set of mosaic doors in the dining room that she can’t stop staring at and whenever her parents are out, the little man in the mosaic seems to move. Amanda has to figure out the mystery of the mosaic doors before it drives her insane.

AJ: Alice, you said YA? What is the age range?

Alice: I suppose for anyone who likes reading YA. I like YA but I know that some adults don’t so probably around 16-20

AJ: My daughter is almost 15. Would it be appropriate for her?

Alice: I would think so. There’s a little romance but it’s nothing heavy, more of an attraction really. Other than that it’s more than suitable. It’s available on kindle. Would you like the link?

AJ: Well, yes, I would.

Alice: The Doors on Amazon

Donelle: I think you will like this book.

AJ: I plan on getting it, Donelle. I like David’s work and Alice seems like my type of person.

Donelle: I am about halfway through.

AJ: Nice.

AJ: Is there anything else, Alice and David would like to say before I let you all go. I know it is late (or very early) where they are at.

Alice: Not that I can think of, except thank you for your support!

AJ: No problem.

If you would like to find out more about David and Alice, follow these links:

Alice J Black (Blog)

The Doors Facebook Page

Alice J Black Amazon Author Page

Granville

@DOHUGHES32

David Owain Hughes, Horror Writer (Website)

David Owain Hughes Amazon Author Page

David Owain Hughes Facebook Author Page

The Value of Starbucks?

Posted: February 4, 2016 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Hey. Come here. Pull up a chair. Don’t worry about it scraping across the floor—they already need to be refinished, but that won’t happen for a while. It’s okay if you get close, unless of course, you had onions or some other nasty smelling food that stinks up your breath. If that’s the case, here’s a Mentos, now come in and sit down. Trust me, you want to sit down. I have no clue how long this will take.

Today, I want to talk about something that is akin to churches asking for bigger offerings when they pass the plate. I’m saying I’m not sure how this blog will go over.

Recently, a friend of mine went on a rant about how people complain about the costs of books—especially eBooks—these days. What makes this interesting is I had a conversation with another friend about something similar. Instead of complaining about the costs of eBooks, we discussed what all it takes and how much time goes into creating a book (it doesn’t matter if it is an e-book or a print book, though print does take a little longer, the concept is the same).

I think I may have to break this up into sections so I can stay focused. Are you comfortable? Do you need a different seat? A cup of coffee? (That’s an appropriate question, considering the example I’m going to use.) Do you need to run to the bathroom before we get started? Go take care of all of that, and then come back. In the meantime, I’m going to get started.

Exhibit A: A Cup of Coffee, Anyone?

I love coffee. So does my wife. However, I only drink coffee that I make at home in my trusty Mr. Coffee pot. My wife is a little different than I am on that respect. Yes, she drinks the coffee I make in Mr. Coffee, but she also likes Starbucks. Personally, I don’t care much for the burnt coffee taste that is so strong it can put hair on your tongue.

Sure, they have their seven hundred million combinations and you can get it frapped, capped, iced and hot. You can get expresso (whatever that is) and a double shot of your favorite flavor. You can get them Short, Tall, Grande, Venti, and Trenta. I find the sizes confusing. Short is kind of like a basic coffee size. Tall is really a small. Grande is medium, venti is large and Trenta is the horse trough size. I’m not even sure Trenta is a real word. I think they just made that one up to sound fancy. (Okay, fine. It is a real world. It is Italian for ‘thirty.’ Whatever.)

For the sake of this post, I am going to stick with what Cate gets: a Grande vanilla latte with extra vanilla. I asked her a series of questions about her Starbucks experience. Here they are:

How long do you stand in line, on average before ordering? Two-three minutes.

How long do you wait after ordering? Five minutes, unless it is a busy day, then it could be up to ten minutes.

How much do you pay, on average? Between four and five dollars, if it is just me.

How long does it take you to drink it? If it is a hot drink, fifteen minutes, because I don’t want it to get cold. If it is an iced coffee, half an hour.

Thank you, Babe. I appreciate your time.

So, let me do a little math, and I am going to use the high end of the numbers Cate gave me: 3 + 10 + 30 + 20 (for the heck of it) = 63 minutes or just over an hour from the time she orders her drink until the time she is finished with it (if it’s an iced coffee).

Keep that number in mind.

Exhibit B: Putting Out a Book

For this part of the post, I am going to use the discussion I had with my friend about the amount of time it takes to put a book together, from beginning to end. Unlike with the Starbucks coffee exhibit, in this case, I will use more conservative numbers. I am also going to use my latest release, A Stitch of Madness as the example.

Are you ready for this? Here we go. (Don’t adjust your screen—there is nothing wrong with the formatting of this section.)

The stories in ASOM were written over a period of years. Let’s just say each story took 5 hours to write (yes, that is very conservative).

Then it took 5 hours to edit each one.

That is now 30 hours of working time on the stories.

I rewrote all three of the stories, and the rewrites took longer than the actual writing.

Let’s just say 7 hours went into each rewrite

Catherine’s Well was rewritten on four separate occasions. That’s 28 more hours just on that story.

So that is a total of 58 hours so far.

Stitches was rewritten twice.

Up to 72 hours.

A Sickly Sweet Scent was rewritten six times with three different endings (that is a total of 42 hours on those alone).

That is 114 hours.

Then there was the whole finding a publisher thing.

Thankfully, in this case it only took about 6 actual hours of researching and shopping it out. Stitched Smile Publications picked it up immediately.

120 hours so far.

That is three full work weeks.

But wait, I went back and edited the stories again after it was picked up. Why did I do that? I wanted it to be as good as I could make it before their editors went through it. That took about 18 hours.

Up to 138.

Then I formatted the book, reformatted it because the page numbers didn’t come out right in the print edition.

That took about 6 hours.

Now we are up to 144 hours.

Then I formatted it for the digital versions.

Fortunately, I had already formatted it for the print edition and only needed to change the TOC.

Add another 4 to it.

That is now 148 hours.

Now, you may be asking yourself, ‘Why did he do the formatting? Isn’t that the publisher’s job?’ Sure, it is, but SSP allowed me to be very hands on with the things I wanted to be hands on with, and hands off on the things I’m not all that good with. I believe a publisher and its authors should work together and help each other.

Then came all of the promoting and talking back and forth to the publishers, the contracts, all of the time it took to get the book out there. That’s an ongoing process, so let’s just cap it off at 12 hours.

That is 160 hours of work, and that is being conservative.

I got paid exactly ZERO dollars for around 160 hours of work. That is four full work weeks at forty hours a week. Remember, that is the conservative totals, and I left out several steps to boot.

Exhibit C: Minimum Wage and the Cost of a Book

The average for minimum wage in the United States is between seven and eight dollars. For this, we are going to split the difference and call it: $7.50. Now, let us do some simple math: 160 hours multiplied by $7.50 = $1200. If I got paid minimum wage as a writer, that would be the amount of money I would have made over that four work week period.

Now, let’s say the cost of an e-book is $2.99, but let us go ahead and round it up to a cool $3.00. In order to make minimum wage for one hour of work on A Stitch of Madness, I would have to sell two and a half eBooks.

Remember that 160 hours? Multiply that by 2.5. That is a total of 400 eBooks that would need to be sold (this is not including taxes or any other deductible) in order for me to make minimum wage writing a book based on the 160 work hours that went into it. Now, I don’t know what my sales numbers are right now, but I’m almost positive it isn’t 400 books worth.

One more thing to keep in mind here: that four work weeks of time is done an hour here, three hours there, two hours here and so on. It’s not like a writer with a full time job can sit for six or seven or ten hours a day and work on the books. It is a commitment.

Exhibit D: Back to Starbucks We Go

Let’s go back to Starbucks for a minute. Remember my wife? Remember how much time she said she spent from the time she got in line at the Starbucks until the time she finished her Grande Vanilla Latte? That’s right, one hour. And remember how much she said she spends each time she gets one? Between four and five dollars. Again, we will split the difference and base it on the 160 hours mentioned above.

Time for math again: 160 X 4.50 = $720.

Even if we only counted the cost of a coffee at Starbucks it would take one and a half eBooks to buy one Grande Vanilla Latte. It would take 240 books to buy 160 Starbucks coffees. Crazy, I know. Why would anyone want to buy coffee at Starbucks 160 times?

Exhibit E: Value

I’ve stated on numerous occasions over the last few years that people value things differently. By value, I mean, how much would you pay for something you want? I’ll give you a couple of examples:

I don’t like steak. Yeah, I know. Who doesn’t like steak? Umm…me. Since I don’t like steak I am not going to spend $15.00 at a steakhouse for one. I don’t care if they come with baked potatoes on the side—a baked potato is worth only so much. A steak holds very little value to me.

Many folks value their Starbucks coffee and will spend more than that five bucks my wife spends on it. They value that coffee and are willing to pay what I consider too much for it.

Each person values things at a different level and different price. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it does in my head.

Exhibit F: Devaluing Art

Art is subjective. Everyone has an opinion about it. I don’t care much for Taylor Swift songs. I just don’t. Are they good? Sure they are. Are they my cup of tea? No. Would I listen to them on an everyday basis or throw one of her albums on and listen to them on the trusty headset? No. That doesn’t mean her songs are not art.

I have a friend who paints and draws some of the most amazing images. He sells them. Recently, he had been commissioned to do a painting for someone. They agreed on the price. He got to work, finished the picture and let the guy know. Before the customer even looked at the painting, he wanted my friend to lower the price. This did not sit well with my friend, and an argument ensued.

‘I can order similar pictures online for half the price.’

My friend ended up not selling the piece. His work was devalued by the customer because of what he could get online. Sad but true.

That brings us to eBooks. Are they real books? Yes, yes they are. It takes a lot of work to put out any book, eBooks included. Is it something you can hold in your hands? Is it tangible? Yes, yes it is, though maybe not as tangible as a paper book where you have to flip the page to turn it (and not just swipe a screen with your finger), or dog ear or use a bookmark so you don’t lose the page you are on when you close the book.

The problem? ‘It’s an eBook. It shouldn’t be so expensive.’ Answer me this: why not? Why should we charge less for the same amount of work? You wouldn’t take a job making less than someone else doing the exact same job would you? So, why charge less than what a book is worth?

‘It’s not a print book, so there is no paper involved.’

True. So why not cut the price by twenty percent instead of seventy to eighty? Most paperbacks these days cost around ten to fifteen dollars, but let’s use the lower end of that for now. If I sell one paperback for $10.00 (which is still cheap) I would have to sell three eBooks and still not make the same amount of money as I did the print version.

The same amount of work went into creating the book—the art, if you will—but one version of it is discounted significantly, partially because it is not paper.

Exhibit G: Authors Do Not Rake in the Dough

I probably shouldn’t do this, but do you remember that $3.00 price tag for an eBook? Let’s just say you purchased it for your Kindle. Well, the author doesn’t make three bucks. Nope, the author only makes a percentage of that. There are two basic royalty amounts on Amazon: 35% and 70%.

If an eBook is purchased at $3.00 and the royalty is set for 70%, the author makes $2.10. Selling two eBooks at that price won’t even get you one Starbucks coffee. Take that same price at 35%. That comes to a whopping…$1.05. That would be the amount of money an author makes per eBook sold.

Want a little perspective? It would take selling 7 eBooks at $3.00 with a 35% royalty rate in order to make the average minimum wage in the United States.

But why 35%, you ask? Well, there is this thing call KDP Select. If you enroll your title into KDP Select you can get that 70% royalty, but your book also gets added to the Kindle Free Lending Library, which means the author isn’t making 70% if it is ‘borrowed’.

Exhibit H: Let’s Put This All Together Now

Let me go ahead and state this: Not everyone will agree with me on this blog post. Some may even be argumentative about this. Are the numbers accurate for everyone? No. They are numbers based on my experience and royalties I have received on sells of my books.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Most authors write because they enjoy it. Yes, we want to make money. If we didn’t then many of us would stick to writing and our stories would never see the light of day. Why? Because it takes so much time to do all of the other stuff involved that is not writing in order to get the work published.

Writers like to entertain people. Writing is difficult, just as most art forms are. It may be easy for some, but not for most. Sometimes it is agonizing.

I’ve said all of the stuff above to kind of paint a picture of a writer’s life who has a full time job (not one who can afford to write for a living). It takes hours and hours of hard work and commitment to complete a book and get it ready for publishing. I left out all the stuff about rejections from editors and agents and publishers. I left out all the criticism writers face. I left out a lot of stuff on purpose—it just didn’t fit what I was going for.

Here is what I won’t leave out: You, the reader, can make a difference in a writer’s life. You can.

‘How?’ you ask? Great question. Here is how: Buy their work. Don’t get it for free through Amazon Prime (yes, I know you pay for the service, but it doesn’t help the writers you like). Read the book. Review the book (this is a very important step, but that is a topic for later). Let other folks know about it through social media or by mouth. Like their author pages, both on Facebook and Amazon (if they have one). Subscribe to their blogs and newsletters (you will get to know more about your favorite authors that way). If you can, drop them a line and let them know you enjoy their work. Those little notes are great ego boosters. When you can, purchase the print books. If you can get them directly from the author, do that (and if it is in your heart, pay more than what they are selling it for. By doing this, you are placing a value on their work, and that is as important for the writer as most anything else you can do). If you ask, they will probably sign the book for you.

And don’t complain about the price of the book. When you break it all down, writers make very little money on hours and hours of work.

Exhibit I: One More Thing And, Yeah, It Is Important

I will never put my books up for free on Amazon. I won’t. I don’t understand the concept of it. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the concept of giving work away in order to get new readers. I do that each month with The Brown Bag Stories. But, as I stated above, with authors making so very little money off of eBooks priced at $3.00 a piece, then why give it away at even less than the marginal amount we do make?

KDP Select allows for five days throughout the term of the book’s enrollment into the program where the author or publisher can make the book free to purchase. Free to purchase isn’t purchasing. To purchase something you have to spend something on it in return. If no money is spent, then there is no purchase made. Sure, there are downloads to be had, but I have a problem with giving books away for free on Amazon.

Would you like to know why? Sure you would.

A lot of people will download a book for free and never read it. They see it’s free and download it, just in case they decide they want to read it. Does it help a writer’s numbers? Not really. Sure, your numbers will jump and your rank will increase, but if everyone who downloads the book for free were interested in it in the first place, maybe they should have paid for it.

Here’s the other thing, and this is going to come across as harsh, but this is my opinion: if someone who wasn’t willing to spend $3.00 on your book downloads it for free, the value of your book–your hard work–is $0.00 to them. Let that sink in for a minute. Basically, that is saying all of your time and energy and care, all of the love you put into creating the best possible book you can has a net value of zero dollars.

Also, if one thousand people download it, you still make nothing, and there goes the potential of a thousand customers. So remember, 70% of zero is still zero.

Here’s another way of looking at it: Would you work a job for 160 hours for free? Before you answer this question, think about it. Would you go to a job and work at that job for forty hours a week for four weeks knowing you would get no compensation for your time and energy? I bet the majority of people will say ‘no.’ If you wouldn’t work a job for free, please, don’t make your favorite writers do the same thing.

In Conclusion

 I’ve wrestled with this topic for a while now. Some people probably won’t care much for it. Some people may even say I’m just screaming for attention. Call it what you want. Like I said at the beginning, this might be viewed the same as being asked to pay tithes at your local Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Catholic, and a whole slew of other churches. It might be unpopular.

I know a lot of really good writers, most of whom you have probably never heard of, all of whom are passionate about their work. You may not even know who I am. You may have stumbled upon this blog or had someone share it with you and you have never heard of A.J. Brown. That’s okay. It is what it is and it ain’t what it ain’t.

This business is hard. Finding readers is difficult. Finding readers who become fans is even more difficult. Making money? Yeah, that’s a luxury most of us don’t have (myself included). Making a living at this? That isn’t even close to a luxury.

If you have stumbled across someone whose work you enjoy, let them know. Spread the word about their books, leave reviews for them, purchase their work. I’m not talking about myself here (unless, of course, I am your favorite writer). I’m talking about all of us who do this with a passion and a heart for writing.

For now, I’m going to go switch on Mr. Coffee and do a little writing. These stories aren’t going to write themselves. I’m on the clock, now. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Kind

Posted: January 30, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

This blog is probably going to be shorter than most. Read on, Faithful Readers.

At the end of her show, Ellen DeGeneres always says, “Be kind to one another.” This is coming from a woman who doesn’t just say to do something, but one who leads by example, by constantly helping people she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t have to do the cool things she does for people. She does them because she truly believes in kindness and loving your neighbor.

I met a person not too long ago who believes the same things, to do right by others, even when those people don’t appreciate your efforts, to be kind to one another, to help where you can and without seeking compensation, rewards, or notoriety. We were discussing this very aspect and she made an interesting statement that puts everything in perspective: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important.

People are important. No, not just your friends and family, but ALL people, including (and not excluding anyone at all) the homeless person on the street, the co-worker you can’t stand, the neighbor who comes in at three in the morning with his radio blaring, the woman with the two screaming children in the restaurant you are trying to eat at, the person on the other side of the counter at McDonald’s, your brothers, your sisters, folks of different color, sex, sexual orientation and religion and political views than yours.

This is not a matter of being kind to one another so others can see you do it. No, this is much deeper. It’s doing something good and not bragging about it, and not seeking recognition.

And here’s the great thing: you don’t have to let the person you are doing something nice for know that you are doing it. Yes, it is like the paying it forward at Starbucks (you know, when someone buys the drinks for the person behind them in the drive thru window). I don’t know of anyone who has ever paid for someone else’s coffee and then waited for that person to get it and said, ‘Hey, look at me, I bought you that drink. Praise me.’

You know that mom in the restaurant with the two bad kids that are getting on your nerves? What if she were a single mom, but not by choice? What if her husband was in the military and deployed overseas? Worse, what if her husband (or boyfriend) passed away? What if she just lost her job or a relative or her house just got repossessed? You see, we don’t know what is going on in people’s lives. We don’t know their circumstances. And you never know when something nice that you do for them could be the one thing that keeps them from teetering on the brink of depression. It may be the point that helps them have a good day. You could be their sun during the storm.

This person I was talking to did something very nice for me, well really two somethings. And she asked me not to make a big deal about it, not to tell folks who did this awesome thing. Sure, I could tell people that someone did something nice for me, but she didn’t want folks to know it was her. I also told her there was no way I could thank her enough for her kindness. Do you know what she said? ‘A thank you is all I need.’

A thank you is all I need…

How often do people say that after doing something for someone? She didn’t want anyone to know she had done this kind thing and she only wanted a thank you. Let’s go back to her statement: I also learned that people not stuff are much more important. She didn’t just say people are important, she showed it and she wanted nothing in return.

People, this is something we need to learn. Be nice, be kind and don’t expect something in return. How awesome would our world be if more people would adopt that mindset?

And there is one more thing: when you do something nice, the person who benefits the most isn’t the recipient of your kind deed. It is the person doing the kind deed. Yes, that’s right. When you do something nice for someone, it gives you a boost, just as much as it gives the other person one.

Like this person, and like Ellen always says, be kind to one another.

Dreams of a Poor Child

Posted: January 17, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

I was once asked where story ideas come from. Well, it didn’t happen just once, but many times. I always say, ‘they come from everywhere and everything.’ Yeah, it sounds lame, but it is true. Story ideas really come from anything I see, anything I hear, anything someone says.

Today, we took a road trip out to Hartsville. It was just a little day trip to get out of the house. On the way home, we drove through Bishopville and did a bit of exploring. We came upon an old baseball field…and the story you are about to read is directly inspired from it. Enjoy.

Dreams of a Poor Child

Picture this:

A long country road, cotton fields on one side, separated by slat board houses, open fields on the other side for as far as the eye can see. Cotton may have grown on that side as well, but now it’s mostly weeds and trash tossed from cars passing by (mostly bottles and cans and faded chip wrappers). Not too far away and left behind in the rearview mirror sits a prison, big, impressive and as out of place in that space of country just between two little towns. The prison isn’t important for this story, but it is part of the area, and now it is an afterthought.

What does matter for this story is on the left hand side of the road (as you go away from the prison and head south). There’s a park, complete with a large playground that has several slides, ladders and monkey bars. There are swings, both for able-bodied kids and the disabled ones. There are benches for the attentive (or unattentive) parents or adults that aren’t parents at all or maybe the teenagers who begrudgingly take their siblings there. It’s a respite for them; an opportunity for peace from the whining and nagging rug rats their parents don’t want to take care of.

A kid is on the playground. He’s maybe eight and his red shirt has a hole in it, as does both the knees in his faded blue jeans. He’s swinging, swinging, swinging and dreaming of jumping out and flying away from there.

Like the prison, the playground isn’t all that important either, but it’s part of the scenery in this low-income part of the world. What is important sits just beyond the playground. It’s a place where dreams are formed, but so few of them come to fruition.

The ballfield is closed in with cyclone fencing that has rust spots throughout its length and on all sides. It forms a cone around the field. The dugouts are to the left and right of where a cracked home plate is forever embedded into the ground. Each dugout holds a wooden bench, which at one time had been smooth wood painted blue, but now is bare of any paint and splintered throughout its length. The outside of the dugout is nothing more than painted plywood that has warped over the years, Mother Nature having done a number on the untreated lumber.

An opening where a gate should have been at the dugout’s entrance leads to the field, which had once been taken good care of. Now, after the unusually wet fall and early winter, the infield is an orange clay mud pit. The bases, which were never soft to begin with, are hard as rock. Stepping on one of those the wrong way could lead to a broken ankle or worse. Yes, there are worse things than a broken ankle.

The outfield grass had long since encroached upon the infield, covering the base path with what amounts to thick patches of moss. The outfield, itself, is deep to center and left, but shallow out to the right. The outfield fence stands eight feet high, a black rubber pad along the top having begun to crumble beneath Mother Nature’s watchful eye—yes, Mother Nature and her vengeful eye had her way with that part of the field as well. There’s a gate in left center. One would assume it was there to make it easy to retrieve balls hit out of the park. Or maybe it was a shortcut to a neighborhood that once existed nearby.

Beyond the ballpark is a football field, minus the goal posts, and a basketball court with no goals and a cracked concrete surface. Like the prison and the playground, none of those things matter. Neither does the wooden bleachers on either side of the baseball field or the concession stand with its boarded windows that is near a dirt road that leads to the parking lot.

Pay attention here. You can’t see this, and even if you can, just listen.

That’s the sound of young boys and girls on the field, playing baseball or softball. It doesn’t matter which. You can hear them screaming from the dugouts, we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher. That’s the sound of a wooden bat on the rawhide of a baseball, a thwack that is distinct and easily recognized.

Keep listening. A young boy just called out, ‘I got it,’ or ‘mine, mine,’ the universal language for I’ll catch it. Someone calls the out. One. Two. Three. Change sides. Batters head to the field. Fielders head to the dugouts.

Still, listen. Is that the sound of a ball slapping a mitt? Is that a called strike? Maybe it was a ball, just a little off the plate.

Strike three, you’re out!

Ball four, son, take your base.

In this impoverished area where stomach grumble after a meal of half a bowl of rice and no water to wash it down, where shoes so tight feet are cramped and blistered and damaged for life, where gloves are stitched together with shoe laces or wire or maybe there’s no gloves at all, but a milk carton tied to a hand to protect the palms from the sting of a hot shot from a bat; yeah, in this place the game—the dream—is the escape. And it’s the dream that often goes unrealized once life invades and washes away the innocence.

But if you listen carefully you can hear the game being played by those young boys (and girls, let’s not forget them). Close your eyes and listen.

Just listen. Open your mind. Open your heart. Listen.

And when you do open your eyes, look to the field, to its dilapidated dugouts and mud caked field. And what do you see? Yeah, there’s a little boy—the same one who earlier had been swinging on the playground dreaming of some place besides there. He stands on the pitcher’s mound, the rubber long gone. He is slightly hunched over, one hand behind his back, an imaginary ball spinning with the movement of his fingers. He stares in at a batter who is only there in his mind.

He straightens. Both hands come out in front of him, coming together in front of his chest as if he is in prayer (and he just may be).

His arm goes back.

His front leg kicks out in front of him.

And he fires the ball toward home plate…

Thank you for reading, and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

 

A Publishing Experience

Posted: January 9, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized

Let me preface this particular blog before I get into it and before you spend the next few minutes reading it. This is purely a promotional blog. I’m just being honest. I hope that doesn’t turn you off from reading on, but if it does, I get it. Who wants to read about some small time writer’s accomplishments? Well, you, I hope. Before you click that X in the top right hand corner of your browser, let me say this: I’m not just going to promote my work in this. I mean, yeah, I’ll mention my work, but I want to talk about my experience.

Life is an experience, whether good or bad largely depends on situations and attitudes, and in many cases, in what others around us do, say and think. We can be as negative as we want to be when things go wrong. On the flip side of that we can have only positive things to say when things are going right.

This is the flip side of the coin.

On January 6th, my three novella collection, A Stitch of Madness, came out. The book was put out by Stitched Smile Publications, a newer company, one that states they are dedicated to putting the writer in the spotlight. Yeah, yeah, I know. Other publishers have said that. It’s an overused ruse to get writers to send their hard work to certain publishers who aren’t in it to help the writer. For a lack of a better phrase, it’s a tired trope that needs to be put to bed.

Sadly, many publishers have fallen down on this aspect. This is partially due to the fact that publishing books is a business. If you’re not making money you won’t be in the business of publishing very long. That’s the bottom line. Unless you have a bottomless wallet of greenbacks. Unfortunately, finding a happy medium between making money and promoting authors is difficult and few publishers find it.

When I was researching Stitched Smile Publications I went to their website and did a little reading up about them. This particular sentence intrigued me: We strive to bring the standard of Indie Publishing to a higher level of expectation.

That is a bold statement.

I read further on and came across this particular sentence:

For us, it’s all about a support system.

Hmmm…I was intrigued.

Then came this line on another page of the website:

If you’ve ever looked around for a publisher and thought that it was overwhelming, we invite you stop and take a look at us.

And that’s when I thought, why not? I had a book completely put together, one that I was going to self-publish and give away at festivals as prizes.

To make this long story a little shorter, I contacted them, sent them the submission (completely formatted), and not too long after, they sent me an e-mail, one stating they wanted to publish the work.

No lie here, I almost did the happy dance. If I had been standing, I probably would have. As it were, I said, “YES!”

Not too long after, a contract was sent, some discussion took place about it, and once both sides had a mutual agreement, it was signed and it was a done deal.

Okay, let’s stop here for a moment. This is where so many things often go wrong in the publishing world. At this point, the publisher could have sat on the manuscript or not had much contact with me for a while about it. It could have been a sit and wait situation. It could have been one of those situations where ‘we need to make a lot of changes on this,’ and where the publisher tried to make it their own style of work or make changes without my consent.

It was none of those.

Instead, they began the editing phase almost immediately. Then a meme appeared on Facebook about the book. Then a video trailer appeared. Yes, a video trailer. All of this happened within the first week of signing the contract. That brings us to that first quote:

We strive to bring the standard of Indie Publishing to a higher level of expectation.

 Let me continue to be honest here. One of the reasons two of my three published books were self-published is I had seen on many occasions how writers had been, again, for a lack of better term, screwed over by small presses and big ones, too. Though my first book was put out by a small press and the experience was good, I wanted to try it myself and not try to find another publisher who would try to put forth the effort, especially after the one I pubbed with went out of business. Several well-known small presses also lost their minds along the way and put their writers in a bad place, thanks to a bit of greed and overextending of themselves. The more I read about them, the less I wanted to do business with them.

Stitched Smile Publications jumped in feet first to publish my book. I talked with someone on their staff every day from the middle of October through the book release. Let me repeat that: I talked with someone on their staff EVERY DAY from the middle of October through the book release.

Then the cover art came. I had a quibble about part of it, then a quabble about something else. The changes were made. When my wife said, ‘Wow’ I knew we had a winner.

But wait. It didn’t stop there. Next came an online cover release party, which generated interest, not only in the book, but in me and my other work. Then came the book release party. Holy cow. I couldn’t keep up. Still, there was more. The day A Stitch of Madness came out another trailer appeared out on the interwebs. It was all sorts of creepy goodness.

Still, there is more. I appeared on Zombiepalooza Radio, a show I have listened to several times in the past. That was nothing short of awesome and fun.

That leads me to quote number two from above:

For us, it’s all about a support system.

 Yes, yes it is. So far, from what I have seen and experienced, I can’t argue with that statement.

So, that brings me to the third and final quote I pulled from the website (all with permission):

If you’ve ever looked around for a publisher and thought that it was overwhelming, we invite you stop and take a look at us.

I’ve often felt this way. It’s paralyzing. It’s difficult. It’s also discouraging. You see, writers tend to pour themselves into their work. Sure, some of them just pound on the keys and vomit up whatever is in their heads (and sometimes that regurgitation is actually pretty good). But many writers put so much into the writing and storytelling that it physically hurts when something bad happens to their work, whether it is being rejected over and over again, or being accepted only to be treated like a number (or a dollar sign) or being put on the back burner and not seeing anything happen with their work for months or years. To put it nicely, that sucks.

Here is the thing that I think many publishers forget: without the writers, they have nothing to publish. Taking care of the writers should be the most important aspect of their endeavors. Yeah, make money. By all means. Like I said, if you don’t make money, you don’t last as a publisher for long.

Here’s a couple of secrets about writers and what we want in a publisher:

  • We want them to respect our work and our ideas, to listen when we have a suggestion, and to offer thoughts and advice if they think we are wrong (in other words: don’t just shoot us down without considering what we want).
  • We want a publisher who will work as hard as we do on putting out a good product, not just for themselves, but for us and the readers, as well (in other words, we want someone who will partner with us to put out brilliance).
  • We want someone who will help us market our work, not expect us to do it ourselves.
  • We want a publisher we can trust.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

We want an experience that we won’t forget, and we want it to be a good one. So far, that is what I have received with my partnership with Stitched Smile Publications. Does it sound like I’m tooting their horns for them? Well, I am. I am happy with all of their efforts, for the communications we have had. I’m happy that they worked as hard as I have to get this book out and make it as good as we could make it. I’m happy with my publishing experience.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

[[END NOTE (and yes, this is pimping my work shamelessly): If you would like to get your hands on a copy of A Stitch of Madness, you can find it on Amazon, both for the Kindle and in print by following this LINK. END OF END NOTE]]