Category Archives: Authors

The Trouble with Free eBooks

man-free-signEveryone loves to get something for nothing, right? And what is more tempting than going online and cruising through thousands of free ebooks? It’s like a smorgasbord that you don’t have to pay for, a literary heaven.

Well, not exactly. Here’s why:

1. Quantity. There are too many free ebooks. Thousands of titles are available, which means a free ebook no longer stands out in the crowd. A few years ago, this was a great way for a new author to get noticed. But now? “FREE! isn’t special when everyone is doing it” author Kristen Lamb wrote in her blog The Problem with Free.  As a tool for authors, it is losing its advantage. As a source for readers, it is overwhelming, and that leads to the second issue:

2. Excess. Many readers do not read the free ebooks they download. The books go into the modern day slush pile called To Be Read. The problem is that most TBR lists contain hundreds of books and why not? They are all free. It doesn’t cost anything to download a book and leave it sitting in electronic limbo.  The reader doesn’t lose anything if he never gets to the book. And that brings up:

3. Value. It turns out that most folks do not value something unless they pay for it. Author Dean Fetzer makes this point in his blog Value for Money: “One of the lessons I learned early on about the internet in my previous job – and the world, for that matter – is: users don’t value free stuff as much as things they pay for.” Readers have no investment in a free book and no expectations. Just the opposite, in fact:

4. Perception. A free product is perceived to be a lesser product. Even positive reviews of free books reflect this attitude. When scanning any reviews of free books you invariably find comments such as  “Not bad, for free”, “I was surprised that something free was actually readable”,  “Enjoyed it but glad I didn’t have to pay for it”.  And let’s take a look at the “glad I didn’t have to pay for it” crowd:

5. Addiction. Yes, ebook readers are now hooked on freebies. They have been trained to NOT pay for books. They expect free ebooks, in quantity,  in perpetuum. Check out The Digital Reader: Are Free eBooks Killing the Market?  for a take on this phenomenon.

Of course, there are authors who have benefited from using the free ebook strategy just as there are readers who devour their electronic books and hunger for more. These authors will argue that giving away free ebooks boosted the sales of their non-free titles. They are the exception now, not the norm. Free promos, if done correctly, can temporarily boost a book’s ranking. Does that translate into sales and reviews? There is heated debate over that but it seems clear that most authors receive only a momentary lift, a blip, so to speak, in the book publishing cosmos.

We have never offered our books for free and have no plans to do so. We want readers who are invested in the story, who want to read our tales so much much they actually pay for them. Authors should set a value on their work. In a race to the bottom, no one wins.


Twas the Night We Were Blogging

computerfix‘Twas the night we were blogging, when all through the house

Not an idea was stirring that would inspire a mouse;

Our manuscripts were flung by the chimney without care,

In hopes that inspiration soon would be there;

We wished we were nestled all snug in our beds,

While visions of blog stats danced in our heads;

And my wife in frustration and I in despair,

Were beginning to think we had nothing to share.

When out of the blue I got a great notion,

I sprang from my chair in a whirl of commotion.

Away to the computer I flew like a flash,

And opened the program but the thing promptly crashed.

I pounded the keyboard, right-clicked the mouse

Then uttered a yell that was heard through the house.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a Microsoft message that wasn’t too clear.

It’s an outdated driver, so slow and so sick,

I knew in a moment this wouldn’t be quick.

More rapid than eagles our curses they came,

We stamped, and we shouted, and called it some names;

“Now, Damn it! now, Darn it! now, How do we fix this!

Oh, Blast it! How stupid! oh, How do we nix this?

This is taking too long! We’re climbing the wall!

Just go away! go away! go away all!”

As frustration did grow and our tempers did fly,

We met with the obstacle, and said “Do or die!”

So back to the keyboard my fingers they flew,

With determination, and disk repair, too.

And then, in a twinkling, I saw on the screen

Another message from the hateful machine.

As I threw up my hands and was starting to frown

Error messages appeared with a bound.

They made no sense to me and no sense to my wife,

And had but one purpose; to cause us much strife;

A bundle of codes, which took us aback,

And made us believe we were on the wrong track.

Our eyes — how they twitched! our faces weren’t merry!

Our cheeks were like roses, our noses like cherries!

My wife’s little mouth was drawn tight as a bow,

And the look on her face as cold as the snow;

I turned to the screen and gritted my teeth,

The steam from my ears circled my head like a wreath;

I felt a sharp pain deep in my belly,

And was beginning to shake like a bowl full of jelly.

I grabbed a manual from off of the shelf,

And mumbled and murmured and read to myself;

My wife caught my eye and then shook her head,

Which let me know I had plenty to dread;

I spoke not a word, but went straight to my work,

And fixed all the problems; then turned with a jerk,

And giving the finger to the stupid machine,

I started it up and it worked like a dream!

My wife sprang to the keyboard and began typing away,

Creating a blog to post the next day.

But I heard her exclaim, as we finished that night,

“Blogging can be quite fun, but sometimes it bites.”

(With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

An Ode to Bestsellers

(Sung to the tune of “The Monster Mash” written by Bobby Pickett, Leonard L. Capizzi)

I was looking at my stats late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my book from its slough began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

From their computers in their happy homes
To the Amazon boards where the critics roam
The readers all came and their Kindles shook
They wanted a download of my book

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

The downloaders were having fun
The series had just begun
Readers could download a three-pack
Or buy paperbacks, one by one.

The scenes were rockin’, all were digging the plot
Word spread quickly, they liked it a lot
Everyone predicted the book would thrive
If only some characters came out alive

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

Out from his lair, a critic’s voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
He opened the book and shook his fist
And said, “Whatever happened to a final plot twist?”

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

Now everything’s cool, the critics have calmed down
And my new book is the hit of the town
For you, the reader, this book was meant to
Hook you on the series; I’ve planned twenty-two!

It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list
The bestseller list
It was an Amazon hit
It hit the list
I pumped my fist
It hit the list
It hit the bestseller list

The Writer’s Clock

Yeah, this pretty much sums it up.

When to End a Book Series

Wow. A tough question if ever there was one. Just how long should a book series last? Some authors love trilogies. Others subscribe to the seven-book saga made popular by J.K. Rowling. Some authors have no preset number in mind; if another idea for a tale manifests, they write it. Others are working toward a specific goal, such as Sue Grafton, the author of the popular Kinsey Malone mysteries, who is working her way through the alphabet. In fact in a review of Grafton’s T is for Trespass, USA today praised her work and wondered,  “What does it take to write twenty novels about the same character and manage to create a fresh, genre-bending novel every time?”

And that is the heart of the debate. Is an author cranking out the same story over and over or creating an original tale for each new book? Some authors get around the fresh/stale problem by constantly creating new characters. Piers Anthony and his wonderful Xanth series is a good example. His characters age and new ones emerge. His 36th Xanth novel will be published this December.

The dilemma that authors face is readers often love the characters in the series they read. They want to read more stories, find out how the next adventure will unfold. They want to see how the lives of the characters progress, learn their ultimate destinies. (Have you seen the meme that made its way around Facebook this past summer? It showed a kneeling man and the caption said, “I pray for world peace, the safety of kittens, and that J.K. Rowling’s new book is really about Harry Potter, the Grown-up Years.”)

Some readers love formula tales, books that follow a well-known, well-loved pattern that gives them the assurance of knowing how the the story will unfold and even what the ending will bring. It’s safe and comfortable, like a good friend. Others want the thrill of not knowing, the adventure of discovering something new, the excitement of wondering, “what is going to happen this time?” Does a long-lived series need to provide endless twists and surprises or does it survive by keeping to the formula? A little of both, we suspect.

Some authors are under contract to write one or more titles in their series per year. Is it hard to be creative under such deadlines? We don’t know the answer to that one since we are not under such constraints, but we have seen once wonderful series deteriorate into obvious have-to-crank-out-another-book tales. This is sad, both for the authors and the readers. Yet the money factor that drives this kind of book production is a hard fact of life.

When will the Time’s Edge series end? We honestly don’t know. We have several adventures in mind for Michael and Kate, and we do know their ultimate destinies. We even know what the final book in the series will be; the last chapter of that tale is written. We keep it in mind when we write and sometimes will hint at their final story. We have already written three books in this series and have three more planned. After that, who knows? If we have more stories to tell, we will. If we feel it is time to bring it to a close, we will do that, too.

That is the true dilemma of writing a book series: knowing when to make a graceful bow and exit.

Why Writers Need Toys

A yo-yo. A snow globe. A rubber ball filled with glitter that flashes blue light when you bounce it. A magic wand filled with sparkly confetti suspended in a pink gel.  Kaleidoscopes. These are some of the toys we keep in our offices.  Why?

1. They aid in creativity. There is something about toys that sparks ideas and loosens up that elusive, hard to define thing called creativity. One of the reasons kids have such great imaginations is that they play. Pacing around the office, bouncing that rubber ball, watching the blue lights flashing and the glitter spinning, is a great assistance when plotting a book.

2. They help your concentration. What? Aren’t toys a distraction? In a way, yes, but a good distraction. They occupy the conscious mind so the ol’ subconscious can have a chance to be heard. We have a plastic box with a clear cover that is about the size of a deck of cards. It is a tiny maze with several silver balls. The object is to get all the silver balls into the center of the maze. Just spend twenty minutes trying to do that! Your conscious mind will be so swept up in the challenge that your subconscious will soar.

3. They break your focus. New ideas come from thinking in new ways. Staring at a page of writing, thinking the same old thoughts about the characters, can feel like being on a treadmill.  A few minutes playing with a kaleidoscope can be enlightening.

4. They are calming. Slinkys®  are especially good for this. The motion and the sound are soothing. Get a nice rhythm going and you will discover their therapeutic powers.

5. They make you feel good. Simple, effective, non-addictive, toys are the perfect pick-me-up. So if you are feeling discouraged over a stuck story line, grab that yo-yo. You simply cannot feel bad while using a yo-yo.

6. They are fun. Toys are pure enjoyment. They exist to entertain. So why not have a little fun?

We know we’re not the only ones to have stumbled on this secret, and it certainly applies everyone, not just writers.  Do you keep a toy or two in your office?

In Defense of Happy Endings

What an angst-ridden world we read in.

No, that’s not a typo. Merely an observation on the preponderance of books that explore the dark side of life.

Let us begin by stating that we don’t object to books that delve into that part or any other part of life. Life is meant to be explored by all the mediums available to us. But why the over-emphasis on tragedy, sadness, despair? That is not all there is. In short, what’s wrong with happy endings?

We posed this question to several writers we know. The responses ranged from “Happy endings are old fashioned” to “Nothing, but no one will really take your work seriously if all your books end well”. One writer claimed that “Good literature is not meant to be fun. It is meant to explore, expose, enlighten, engross, and enrich.” The string of “E” words made us blink. But they also made us ask why a lighter tale could not do all of those things. “Nonsense!” was the reply. “You can’t illustrate a serious point by having fun!” This reminded us of one of our elementary school teachers who was fond of yelling, “You’re not here to have fun! You’re here to learn!” When did fun and learning become mutually exclusive?

We then posed the same question to readers. In our highly unscientific poll, we discovered that the writers and readers from whom we received responses are miles apart on this issue. We heard a lot of: “I love happy endings”, “I like books that leave me feeling good”, “Happy endings are more satisfying”. One reader summed it up beautifully:

I don’t mind reading books that end in a way that most would define as unhappy, but I like to know what I am getting.  When I pick up a horror novel or a book that is obviously a tragedy, I expect a sad outcome. I don’t like it when a book is entertaining and fun and then has a sudden twist at the end that results in a bad ending. I feel like the author pulled a fast one on me for no other reason than to add pathos.

We happen to like happy endings. We totally agree that not all stories should have them. But why the dismissal of stories that do? “Happy endings aren’t realistic” one writer said to us. We feel that consistently unhappy endings aren’t realistic, either. Life is not one-sided, never has been, never will be.

So here’s to happy endings and the books that provide them. They illustrate the points that occasionally you can win one, that life is not all bad, that hope and happiness are obtainable. If nothing else, a happy ending to a story can make you smile. And what’s wrong with that?

The Fiction Writer’s Alphabet

22 Rules of Storytelling

Great advice for writers from Pixar.







The Many Moods of Writing

We’ve done all of these and more! How about you?


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