The 12 Steps of Getting Over Yourself

by Christina Lay

I have a confession to make. I’ve completed 15 novels and novellas; some of them are even published. This does not include an indeterminate number of drawer novels, those hideous beasties who lurk forever in a state of suspended animation waiting for my fickle brain to become interested in them again. But they are important too, because they represent hundreds of hours of learning the hard way.

I’ve done a lot of hard-way learning. One would think that at this point I would have mastered the art of noveling—or as some people call it, “writing”—but the process of bringing a novel into the world is an ever-evolving, ever-elusive endeavor, and there is no end point, no graduation ceremony after which you will forever breeze through the process of writing like a mature, unruffled professional. No, writing is an exciting ride, a roller coaster of surprises, a minefield of potential failures, a vale of tears.

Recently, I did another dance with The Wall. You know. The one that stops you. This one stopped me for longer than usual. During this Winter of My Worst Novel Ever, I penned the following ripoff of the famous 12 Steps of Alcoholism Anonymous. May they come to your aid during your next Worst Novel Ever.

The 12 Steps of Getting Over Yourself and Finishing the Damn Novel

  1. Admitted we were powerless over the plot, and that our novel had become unmanageable
  2. Came to believe that a really good book on craft could restore us to sanity
  3. Made a decision to turn our plot and our characters over to the care of a workshop or writing group, and to try and utilize their critiques as we understood them
  4. Made a searching and analytical inventory of our novel
  5. Admitted to our muse, to ourselves, and to our writing group the exact nature of our screw-ups
  6. Were entirely ready to ruthlessly cut these defects of plot
  7. Humbly asked our writing group to help us
  8. Made a list of all the places we had gone wrong, and became willing to remove all of our adverbs
  9. Made direct cuts wherever possible, except when to do so would injure the story or character development
  10. Continued to take an honest inventory and when we went wrong, promptly corrected our course
  11. Sought through writing groups and workshops to improve our storytelling abilities as we understood them, gathering the knowledge of how to write and the caffeine to carry those ideas to fruition
  12. Having had an awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others by participating in a writing group, leading workshops, writing articles, and by using what we learned in all our writing affairs

 

Review ~ Storm of the Gods

Welcome to the first outing of a new feature on ShadowSpinners. Every once in a while, when one of us is impressed by a book, we’ll post a review. Sometimes the post might be part of a book tour, like today, in which case there’s an option to enter a giveaway. Don’t worry, we will not be flooding your inbox with empty posts that are just ads for books. We will be very discerning about which books and tours we decide to host.  That said, on to the review:

Storm of the Gods by Amy Braun

An Areios Brothers Novel #1

I was interested in reading Storm of the Gods for two reasons. First, the world building sounded amazing, and I love fantasy novels that bring gods into the mix.  Second, I’d read Amy Braun’s excerpts on the Weekend Writing Warriors blog hop, and always enjoyed the exciting and energetic pace of her action scenes. (Okay, I guess that’s three reasons: world building, gods, action!)

The book did not disappoint in any of those areas.  This urban fantasy is set in a contemporary California that has been taken over and divided up among the Greek gods, who are recently reawakened and looking to kick some ass and get their power back. Oh, they’re still godlike and powerful, but not as much as before, because humans stopped worshipping them. I like my fictional gods with frailties and flaws, and all of the Olympians in Storm, while fearsome and magical, have weak spots, which makes them so much more interesting than all-knowing, all-seeing deities lounging on top of a mountain somewhere. Some of them are indeed super villains, or seem to be, but are layered with so much pathos and personality that they seem quite fresh, despite the fact that we’ve read about them since 7thgrade mythology class.

This new world under the rule of gods is intricately thought out and vividly described, but don’t worry, most of the words you’ll be reading are snappy dialogue and quickly paced action sequences, not florid descriptions of a world gone divine. Actually the world (or California at least) seems to be in pretty sorry shape, with monsters charging about and angry gods destroying things. I’d like to read more about how the rest of the world is reacting to this divine take-over, but maybe they’re just shrugging and ignoring like they do now because—hey—it’s California.

That said, all the magical whiz bang and neato-god stuff wouldn’t be enough to sell me on any book. I am first and foremost a connoisseur of Character, and need well-developed protagonists, allies, friends and enemies to keep me wrapped up in a story. Storm also delivers on this front. In the first pages we meet the Areios brothers; older brother Derek, and younger brother Liam. They are scions, meaning they’re descendants of a god-human hook up. In this case the god is Ares, god of war, and the brothers are his top soldiers, fighting monsters mostly, but also other scions who piss Ares off. Yes, they are kick ass fighters, but they are also compassionate, intelligent, and not too happy about basically being slaves to Ares’ violent whims.

The relationship between Derek and Liam is what really makes this story gripping. From the first pages, you want to hug them and feed them hot chocolate and cookies, they’re so lovable. They have witty, sibling appropriate banter (fans of Supernatural should be very happy) but they care about each other deeply. They have a dark and twisted past involving a rather demented father, but their love for each other keeps them on the right side of that whole good vs. evil conundrum. And they can bring others into their fold, if those others earn their trust. There is a possible love interest blooming, but don’t worry, she’s kickass too and doesn’t slow the action with any lovely dovey nonsense.

My only persnick with Storm is that there might possibly be too much action. The fight scenes are impressive; Derek gets his ass royally kicked soooo many times, but his magical abilities, and those of his brother, help him heal. Just in time to get monster-stomped once again. Although exciting for the most part, it does get to be a bit much for a reader like me who is not so action-oriented. I’m sure many will revel in those long, drawn-out battles. Me, I’d rather listen to Liam and Derek tee-off on each other. I’m very much looking forward to the sequel, maybe with more page time for Liam (hint hint).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, and who is not adverse to generous helpings of whiz-bang, action, re-imagined mythology, and humorous banter.

I received an ARC in order to review this book, but I’d already bought my own copy, so there.

***

Storm of the Gods

An Areios Brothers Novel #1

by Amy Braun

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Thirty years ago, the gods of Greek legend returned to the world. Their return restored their powers, which had been spent in a cataclysmic battle with the Titans. With the ancient deities imprisoned in Tartarus, the Olympians now reside in Néo Vasíleio, formerly known as California.

Twenty-four-year-old Derek Aerios is a war scion, a descendant of Ares, the God of War. He and his brother, eighteen-year-old Liam, capture mythological creatures and rogue scions as part of Ares’s elite military force. As he struggles to cope with his violent powers and the scars of a traumatic childhood, Derek tries to keep the two vows he has made: protect his brother, and never kill a human again.

But when Ares forces him to hunt and kill four rogue scions under Athena’s control—by threatening Liam’s life—Derek chooses to go after the scions in order to save his brother and keep his promise to himself.

Yet the closer Derek gets to the scions, the more he realizes that his orders are part of a deeper conspiracy that put him at odds with his mission and his conscience. Athena may not be the enemy, a traitor could be in their midst, and the Titans could be closer to freedom than ever before.

Add to Goodreads

Amazon* B&N* Kobo

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42072790-storm-of-the-gods

Buy Links
Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Gods-Areios-Brothers-Novel-ebook/dp/B07GCRJS1Z
B&N:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/storm-of-the-gods-amy-braun/1128858892
Kobo:https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/storm-of-the-gods

 

 

About the Author

Amy is a Canadian urban fantasy and horror author. Her work revolves around monsters, magic, mythology, and mayhem. She started writing in her early teens, and never stopped. She loves building unique worlds filled with fun characters and intense action. She is an active member of the Weekend Writing Warrior community.

When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, watching movies, taking photos, gaming, struggling with chocoholism and ice cream addiction, and diving headfirst into danger in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns

 

Website* Newsletter* Facebook* Twitter* Instagram* Amazon* Goodreads

 

Author Links

Website:http://amybraunauthor.com/books/storm-of-the-gods

Newsletter:http://eepurl.com/dFm9cL
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/amybraunauthor

Twitter:https://twitter.com/amybraunauthor

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/amybraunauthor

Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Braun/e/B00MU4BBYS

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8452020.Amy_Braun

 

Giveaway

Signed paperback copy of STORM OF THE GODS, various bookmarks, and postcards (US & Canada only), $25 Amazon (WW) – 1 winner each

 

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

https://www.silverdaggertours.com/sdsxx-tours/storm-of-the-gods-book-tour-and-giveaway

 

 

Paranormal Romance and Fantasy Romance Tropes by Sarina Dorie

This week on ShadowSpinners we welcome Sarina Dorie, creator of the popular series, Womby’s School for Wayward Witches.

 

Hades & Persephone: To the Underworld

 

Paranormal Romance and Fantasy Romance Tropes

 by Sarina Dorie

What is a trope?

A trope is a plot device. All genres have them. When done well, a trope feels natural and necessary to the plot. When it isn’t done well, it feels contrived or unoriginal. It isn’t that a trope is inherently bad, although some people are very opinionated about the ones they love or hate.

In every genre, readers expect them. In romance, the trope is generally the element that helps the hero and heroine meet or keeps them apart. The thing that makes a trope work is subverting the readers expectations so that the writing feels fresh and original.

 

What’s an example of a trope?

For example, one of the tropes of Romeo and Juliet (which is a love story, not a romance in case you didn’t realize it) is the idea of enemies to lovers or rival houses. This is the same trope in Westside Story. It’s used in many other movies, books, and television shows.

 

In Twilight, the idea is used with vampires versus werewolves with the protagonist being caught in the middle. After Twilight was published, this trope was used a lot in paranormal romance, specifically the rivalry of vampires versus werewolves. It became an easy (and sometimes lazy) way of creating conflict. For years every paranormal fantasy novel I picked up had rivalries between vampires and werewolves. Writers kept writing it because readers kept reading it.

But every plot was the same: He was a misunderstood vampire with a dark past. She was a werewerewolf/werebear/werepanther trying to avenge her clan. They were mortal enemies, but the only thing they could think about was each other.

 

The trope got old. The conflict felt contrived. People made fun of the genre. This is probably why What We Do in the Shadows worked so effectively. It subverted the viewer’s expectations. The vampire versus werewolf rivalry focused more on the bromance of the story. The actual love story/romance was the B plot (secondary plot) for one of the other characters. This B plot also explored tropes taken to their extreme. And of course, there was the unforgettable line from this movie “werewolves not swearwolves” that lives on in my memory forever.

 

What are examples of your favorite tropes?

That’s just me and my preferences. That trope of enemies to lovers or rival houses lives on in paranormal romance.  When done well, it doesn’t feel contrived, but there are other tropes that other people don’t like because of the execution. Some of my personal favorites that I use in my fantasy and science fiction romance novels are:

Beauty and the Beast

Fairy Tales

Enemies to Lovers

Love Triangles

Sassy heroine

Amnesia

Tragic past

Was it a lie? (disguise/undercover love)

Breaks her heart to save her

Noble rescuer steps in because she’s dating Mr. Wrong

 

Anyone who has ready my Womby’s School for Wayward Witches Series is going to recognize some of these. The first two tropes work especially well in the kind of fantasy and science fiction I write. Sometimes my monster/beast is the pretty human or an unassuming Prince Charming is the real beast. I already like fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, so fracturing a fairy tale worked well for me like in my novel WRATH OF THE TOOTH FAIRY coming out in the summer of 2019. Think about Shrek and why it did so well. The movie completely subverted our expectations.

 

How do you use a trope?

Everyone writes differently. I don’t usually set out to write a trope, it just happens. In the editing phase or partway through writing, I try to be aware of elements that might not be original and subvert expectations. If you are writing a horror novel, mystery, historical, thriller, etc. my favorite tropes might not be the tropes you and your audience are drawn to. Figure out what works for you.

 

How do you find tropes appropriate for your genre?

Do some research. A while back I found some lists of romance tropes. None of these are complete. There are more I find myself using that aren’t on these lists, but it gives you a starting point to think about.

145 Romance Tropes

https://goteenwriters.com/2015/12/16/145-romance-tropes/

All the Kissing’s Favorite Romance Tropes

https://allthekissing.com/2018/02/atk-romance-tropes/

Romance Tropes: What Words for Romance Readers

http://arghink.com/2015/10/romance-tropes-what-works-for-romance-readers/

Sarina Dorie has sold over 150 short stories to markets like Analog, Daily Science Fiction, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s IGMS, Cosmos, and Abyss and Apex. Her stories and published novels have won humor contests and Romance Writer of America awards. She has over two dozen books available on Amazon including her steampunk romance series, The Memory Thiefand her collections of short stories like Fairies, Robots and Unicorns—Oh My!are available on Amazon, along with her series Womby’s School for Wayward Witches.

You can find info about Sarina Dorie’s short stories and novels on her website:

www.sarinadorie.com

The best way to stay in contact with Sarina Dorie, hear about what she is writing, know when she has a new release, or books offered for free on Amazon is by signing up for her newsletter.

https://mailchi.mp/sarinadorie/authornewsletter

 

 

Point of View, Perception and Values: How to Create Conflict Without Really Trying

by Christina Lay

You may have noticed that we live in divisive times.  The gulf between opposing points of view seems to be widening every day. People who hold extreme views are becoming more extreme. Middle-of-the-roaders are held in contempt.  Allies turn on each other for not being righteous enough. Opponents dig in their heels, become intractable. Fresh arguments break out every day and when we, as observers, try to make sense out of what is happening, we are told that Facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t exist, science is fake, and that we can’t believe what we read, what we see, or what we hear.

Pretty fun stuff, eh? I often find myself with a headache, a touch of nausea and an overwhelming sense of frustration.  Luckily, I have the refuge of fiction. I escape into a world where I’m in control, where I know what the truth is and I know who the bad guys are. I can exist in this simple world of my own making for a long time; it is balm to my soul.

But then reality begins to creep back in, with its confusions and complications. And that’s okay, because nobody wants to read my fairy tales where nothing very bad ever happens. Readers, for whatever bizarre psychological reason, want conflict. They want the strife I am seeking to escape. They want danger, intrigue, a plot. Go figure.

And so I reluctantly take a closer look at the world around me. Sheesh, what a mess. But what a great time to study and learn about conflict!  Complicated conflict. Conflict between well-meaning, intelligent people. Many works of genre fiction rely on simple forms of conflict.  There is a bad guy, or force, or malevolent power afoot in the universe. In thrillers, it might be a corrupt foreign power, in mysteries, a murderer, in fantasy, an evil wizard bent on controlling the world and killing all the pretty unicorns.  It’s not too hard to create a villain who is so loathsome and evil that readers will cheer when your protagonist shoots him in the face. Or lops her head off.

Although great fun, this is not the kind of conflict I’m talking about now. Because in the end, the super villain tends to be a superficial character, and the plot, with all its twists and turns, is ultimately predictable. Because if you let your hero die and the despicable villain you’ve created win, your readers will want to shoot you in the face. I know. As a reader, I’ve been there.

I mostly read genre fiction, and often find myself more interested in the twists and turns of the hero’s other relationships. The friends, allies, mentors, co-workers, parents, children, who can all become, if not villains, antagonists of the most interesting sort.

And at last I reach my point: how friends, allies, parents, siblings, can become the most interesting antagonists without having to kill a single a person. They might even be good people. The hero might love or be in love with them. And yet these antagonists can be believable and diametrically opposed to the hero on some point of such import that they become the main obstacle to the hero’s success and the satisfying ending your reader craves.

Truth is slippery. If there is one thing to learn from reality today, it’s that facts can be hidden, misinterpreted, ignored. The interpretation of an event can be determined simply by where one is standing. “I heard that man shouting sexist insults!” “Well, I saw that woman whack a man on the head with her Love Always Wins sign!” “They were the aggressor.” “No, that group started it”. “The police were being needlessly brutal.” “No, the perpetrator had a gun.”  It is easy to see how two friends, experiencing an event from different locations, could come away with very different feelings. One might feel the need for action, or revenge, while the other does not.

Beyond the immediate physical view point, there is of course the viewpoint that comes from economic status, regional and racial outlook, religious upbringing, relative health or dysfunction of the birth family and so on. It pays to do a little homework, a little world-building, in order give your main characters diverse backgrounds or life experiences, especially from those closest to them. Honoring diversity in your fiction as well as your life can add so much richness to your stories.

Another way to create instant conflict between people with the same values is to give them different ideas about how to protect those values. Take traditional family values versus women’s rights.  One doesn’t have to be a super villain to believe that families are healthier when the woman stays home to raise the kids, but if that person is your progressive protagonist’s new husband, watch out.

I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but I’ve personally found it eye-opening to look at all this conflict around me through the lens of character development and plotting. It doesn’t hurt that incorporating the frustrations of the world into a work of fiction can be, not only informative, but somehow healing. As my characters work through their perceived differences, I can see how there might be hope for all of us to stop being each other’s antagonists.

HEA vs. Suspense: How To Keep Your Readers Nervous

by Christina Lay

I recently took part in a conversation among writers in which the question was asked “How can you create suspense in a romance novel when everyone knows the two main characters will end up together?” One answer offered was along the lines that suspense in romance is always built on a misunderstanding that drives a wedge between the characters, leaving the reader to wonder if they’ll ever be able to overcome the damage done. I protested, saying, well, that’s one hoary old device, which sometimes works, but in a good romance novel, there’s much more going on, and so many possibilities, just like in any other type of fiction.

I should point out that The Misunderstanding isn’t necessarily bad. After all, misunderstandings happen in real life all the time. In this age of communication, we seem to communicate successfully less and less, especially when texting is the preferred method. The most important thing to remember is to make whatever happens a believable, and not annoying, occurrence. The Misunderstanding should not make your characters look stupid, petty, or hysterical, unless you’re writing a comedy, and even then, make sure it doesn’t just make your reader despise your hero. And, if The Misunderstanding could be cleared up with one question, like “Did you really sleep with my sister?”, then you’d better make Damn Sure your character has an excellent reason for not asking the question.

One complicated doohickey

But really, The Misunderstanding is just one device that writers might use to drive a wedge between their would-be lovers. Whatever serves to keep the romantic interests apart helps to create suspense.  It may or may not be crucial to the plot. In a light romance, or comedy, The Wedge might be a lie told by a jealous rival, a piece of conversation heard out of context, or a meaning ascribed to an action that wasn’t intended. It is also possible for two intelligent, rational people to have entirely different perceptions of an event or conversation. In budding romances in particular, this can work, because it’s such a sensitive and vulnerable time, but again, make sure the motivations and reactions of the characters are believable and not insipid.

In a more serious romance, suspense is created by giving the characters motivations or values that are at odds. The police woman who falls for a possible crook. The betrothed king who falls for a landless nobody. The democrat who falls for a republican, and so on. The question then revolves around whether their love is strong enough to overcome the difference, or if they’re doomed to failure.  If you really want to up the odds, you’ll give the characters friends and family who are also in opposition to the lover’s values/family/job/quest. Then romantic love is pitted against familial love, or tribe loyalty, or an oath sworn to a vengeful god. The more pressure you can put on the two lovers to stay apart, the better. But then, of course, you’ll need to make their passion for each other greater and more compelling than the value/family/tribe/quest they are putting at risk.

A great way to make readers fidget is to make them unsure of what is of greater importance: the cause or the lover? Make them seriously doubt if there is any way the two can exist in the same world. Make the future of their love look bleak, maybe impossible.

Suspense depends on how great the stakes are in your story. Not all romance has to be about The Wedge. It is possible that the lovers are together, deeply in love, and it’s the outside world that is threatening their bliss. One might be in physical peril and the other must risk all to save them. One might be called to sacrifice something important in order for the other to achieve a dream. Maybe they are an interracial couple moving to an intolerant community, or a gay couple being threatened with the loss of job, status, familial acceptance.

Now, you might be thinking, but it’s a romance, of course they’ll work it out, no matter what IT is. Usually, readers of romance do like their HEA (Happily Ever After), but not all romances end that way. Even when they do, there’s no reason at all to think they lack suspense. Suspense can come from many and all quarters, and if done right, will force the characters to face their fears, their weaknesses, even their possibly misplaced desires, and either grow and triumph, or fail, miserable and alone (MAA is nota recommended ending, but still possible).

When you pick up a mystery, you pretty much know the detective is going to solve the crime and probably not die. You get wrapped up in the personal life of the main character(s) as you get nervous about whether or not the killer might strike again, and maybe even you start to worry the detective will end up a victim after all. Likewise, in a romance, you’re pretty sure the main characters will end up together, but along the way, you get involved in the challenges they face, the sacrifices they might have to make, and hopefully, you get nervous about whether or not they will be able to work things out.

A hard fought love scene is truly a wonderful thing. That’s one reason I enjoy writing the enemies-to-lovers trope. So many reasons for them not to get together and yet, they can’t live without each other. Such a dilemma. Such juicy territory for the writer. When are we more vulnerable than when in love? When most likely to risk all? A character in love lives in suspense, every minute they are not with their true love. And most of us can relate to relate to that kind of separation anxiety, even if it is all due to a terrible misunderstanding.

 

Paper Clip by John Burridge

Today on ShadowSpinners we welcome John Burridge, who brings us a tale of mystery, inspiration, and not-so-ordinary objects.

I linger outside the supermarket where I sometimes write.  The hot sky is the color of ash, as if someone has smeared the remains of a BBQ pit across heaven.  The breeze makes it seem like the grey smudge above hides rain, but the forecast is for heat and an insulating inversion.  I’m tempted to make this a drinking night–the day’s been frustrating–but I opt to try to write instead.  A cold blast of air-conditioning hits my face as I walk inside.  

I stalk through the aisles, try to find something that will inspire me to write, purchase some healthy-ish snacks, then head upstairs.  The table I normally write at in the supermarket’s mezzanine is occupied by an older lady with the props of homelessness:  an over-burdened cart, which might have been an IV rack in a past life, its thick grey wheels signaling that it’s possibly from a hospital or nursing home, with full, plastic rival-market shopping bags hanging from it.

I cast about the mezzanine and end up at another table; like all the others, it’s a cool, dark, and highly polished sheet of marble or artisanal concrete, flecked with mica glinting like stars.

I set up my tablet, plug in headphones against the inevitable wailing children, cell-phone-using psychiatry patients, and estranged roommates.  I type–hoping that this time the words will flow like a spring in an oasis; like the aurora borealis at midnight; like a pod of dolphins dancing among the waves; like lover’s kisses along the nape, around the hollow of the neck, and over those places loved best.

Instead, I write ten or so lines of bad Oscar Wilde pastiche and maybe three lines about the Prince of Lyres standing over splinters of his instrument in front of the still locked gates of the underworld.  Gee, thanks, subconscious.  Tell me something I don’t already know.

Then the children, their mothers, the cell-phone users, and irked roommates parade by my foreign workspace–each one stomping the floor in just the right place to make my borrowed workspace tremble.  This would never happen at my regular table, which is not on the path to the market’s restrooms.

The old woman–pushing her cart before her–joins the parade, makes for the elevator, and exits the mezzanine.

By this time, I’m thinking this isn’t going to be a good writing night and I should just go meet up with my ex-critique group for a drink–but, it’s still early, and, actually, I should be saving my money.  A math tutoring session at the next table over decides me that if I’m going to not-write doggerel, I may as well do it in a better setting.  Besides, an attendant with antiseptic spray and cleaning rag has swooped over the vacated tables.  I scoop up snacks, pack, tablet, and keyboard, and I walk–headphones still on–to my regular spot.

I get to the table and there in the dark-sky-and-mica-star center of it is a paperclip.  Which slaps me back in time.  Weeks ago last June, at an elder-stateswoman-writer’s memorial, someone told a story about paperclips.  A few days before the writer died, the story-teller (an atheist) and the writer were joking around about supposed afterlives and randomly came up with the word “paperclip” as the message the writer would send as proof if she found herself in heaven.  The day after, the story-teller, in a moment of synchronicity, inexplicably found two paperclips–which he presented to the memorial gathering–linked, in his pocket.

I pick up this singleton paperclip.  It’s steel or some other silvery metal, with little grooves worked into the loops for extra gripping friction.

What meaning does one assign a paperclip–which may have been left behind by an elderly and possibly homeless woman when she left, pushing her belongings and errands out into the hot evening with a setting sun hidden by smoke and ash?

Paperclips hold pages together–paper planes which touch but do not connect.  Maybe the paperclip says, “Hold together;” but hold what?  There’s nothing currently in it more substantial than thought.

I rotate the paperclip in my fingers.  It’s not perfectly flat.  The inner loop of metal is pulled up slightly from the outer loop.  At one point it held together something–a manuscript? a prescription and receipt? a photo and resume?–but holding whatever together has warped it.

I put it down next to my keyboard and stare at it as I type.

Is the shade of a great writer leaving me a paperclip as a sign of encouragement?  Or, is it a reward for sitting with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard instead of slouching against a tavern table with a margarita in my hand?  Or, is it a challenge–write the story this empty paperclip will have to hold together?  Or, is it a message–the writer connects meanings to the actions in the text?  Yeah, right.  “Don’t lose the day job,” would be a more likely message, and I imagine she’d have better uses for manifesting paperclips, like leaving them for her family or people she’d known much longer than our two years’ acquaintance.  Or her agent.

I write all this while staring at the paperclip.  It’s getting late.  Maybe tonight I’ll dream about paperclips.  Maybe I’ll make a shirt that says, “My writer friend went to heaven and all I got was this paperclip.”  Maybe I’ll write a fantasy story about a magician who makes a talisman of paperclips linked together into a necklace:  every paperclip a star, every star a soul, every soul a story.

***

John Burridge writes short stories in the high fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary urban fantasy genres.  His work explores familial relationships, choice, and identity.  A native Oregonian, John lives with his husband, son, and two requisite cats (one fluffy and grey, the other sleek and black).

John is an alumni of the Eugene Wordos, a professional writer’s critique group.  He was an active member from 2001 to 2017, and he chaired or co-chaired their meetings from 2003 onward.

His first professional sale was to Writers of the Future.  Since then, he has garnered a few other sales and many, many rejection slips.  You can read more about him and his publishing history at https://johnburridge.blogspot.com/p/bio-writing-credits.html.

KDP Select: A Brief Overview

by Christina Lay

A few authors have asked me lately about my experiences with Kindle Direct Publishing’s Select option, so I thought I’d condense my notes and present them here. While the topic might be rather dry, it also might be of interest to those searching for new revenue streams for their published or about to be published works. For those who don’t know, Select is a program offered by KDP, Amazon’s ebook publishing service. By enrolling your ebook, you agree to offer it for sale exclusively on Amazon. In return, you get the option to list your book for free, for up to five days of each three-month enrollment period. This can be a big boon to someone who is using the freebie option as a marketing strategy. The second benefit of Select is that your book is available for “check-out” by anyone paying for a Kindle Unlimited subscription. Amazon pays the author for this by a royalty system that I’m sure keeps many up late into the night. It’s calculated by pages read—and each book gets a share of a monthly pot based on its percent of the total.  If you feel like giving yourself a headache, you can read details here.

I should pause a moment to point out that many seasoned, best-selling authors will warn you quite passionately against putting all of your book eggs in Amazon’s basket. I understand and I see the point very clearly. However, there are instances where having your book in Amazon’s free library might be a viable part of your overall strategy. And, when you sign up, the term is for three months. It is not as if you are selling your literary soul to the behemoth that is Amazon. Just remember to unclick the auto-renew option, so you can escape at will.

Are your books gathering dust? KDP Select might be an option for you.

I discovered the benefits of KDP Select by accident.  I published a very short story a couple years ago, with the intent of offering it for free to generate interest in my novels.  The easiest way to do it seemed to be to sign the book up for KDP Select, so that I could have the option of offering it for free on Amazon with no hassle. I did that, generated about 700 downloads, and I felt fairly satisfied with the whole experiment. There was a bump in novel sales, not big, but enough it seemed to have had a bit of an impact. Also, there were now 700 people in the world who at least were vaguely aware of my existence. Maybe someday they will actually read the story and become a fan, write a review, buy another book. That’s the dream.

Nowadays there are more free giveaway platforms like InstaFreebie and so on, to help with the Free Book gambit, but there are other reasons one might choose KDP Select.

I left my book in Amazon’s clutches without much thought of doing anything else with it. The short story continued to sit up there, neglected by me, and slowly, I noticed a few pennies dribbling into my checking account from Amazon. And yes, I do mean a few pennies.  KU’s author reward system is based on pages read, and my very short story generated very few royalties. I considered it amusing, and somewhat interesting.

Flash forward a few years, and I found myself with the rights to a backlist of novels after my publisher closed its doors. I repackaged them and when ready to re-release, decided to opt for KDP Select on the first book in a series, again mainly to generate interest in the rest.  This time the book was downloaded about 300 times. Not bad but not great either.  But then something else started to happen. Instead of a few dozen pages being logged in my KENP report (what Amazon calls pages read), there were thousands. I became more interested in Amazon’s byzantine reward system.  At the end of the month my pages read for that book resulted in a royalty payment that was about equal to the royalties from books sold, thereby doubling my income. Now, these were not quit-the-day-job-and-move-to-the-south-of-France numbers, but it did spark my interest, shall we say.  I signed up the second book in the series, and experienced the same results.  One might ask whether this diminishes actual sales, but there is no way to tell and by my calculations, the royalty result is nearly the same for a full-length book priced to sell (2.99-4.99). My guess is that readers who are paying for the KU option are probably reluctant to pay for a book, especially when they don’t know the author.

KDP Select is obviously not a good choice for everyone, or even most.  Obviously, if you have a solid fan base, your sales are going well and you feel satisfied with the progress of your publishing career, than signing over your fate to Amazon probably isn’t worth the sacrifice.  It is clearly in your benefit to have your ebooks available through every possible retailer.  And there are other ways to offer books for free.

However, if your sales are lagging, if you have books that have been around the block and are gathering dust on the virtual shelves, or if you have a series that could use a boost, this might be a golden opportunity to reach new readers.  And, if like me, you are an unknown minnow in a vast sea of unknown fish, having your book free on Amazon can give you a marketing lift like no other (assuming you don’t have a huge publicity budget, that is).  Over the span of my publishing experience, I must admit that sales via Amazon equal about ninety percent of my total, so being exclusive is not much of a sacrifice for me, especially not in the short term. Remember this is for ebooks only, not print.  So is it worth sacrificing a handful of sales to B&N and Apple readers? Only you can decide that.