Why Should You Care?

Standard

Andrew and I have a problem. It’s the same problem a million other people have, with its roots in the most fundamental problem of human nature. Our problem: we want our stories to be heard. Why? That is the question (sorry, Hamlet).

I stumbled across this TED talk today. If you’ve got 18 minutes or so to spare, I recommend checking it out, he’s got some excellent points.

But something niggled at me while watching this. It’s the same thing that has been bugging me since I launched the first episode of Gone To Wonder, and even before that. Marketing.

I’ve decided marketing is the devil. Spend a bit of time on Twitter and watch the endless trains of the faithless writers trying to hock their books. Visit the cities filled with the foolish that I call Facebook (actually, I wouldn’t really know about that, since I refuse to give Facebook the time of day). In these magical places, you’ll see a whole lot of elevator pitches that amount to what Sinek points out is the “What” part of communicating. Is anyone sold on a 140 character blurb? A quote from the book? A bullet-point premise? I haven’t once bought a book from that kind of pitch, so I don’t know if it works or not. I have bought from people I thought were funny or interesting. Am I alone here?

And I’ve decided I can’t do it. It feels somehow false to me. On one hand, it’s like begging for attention. Andrew had a post not too look ago called Screaming Into the Void, which was a great way to put it (he also talks about a strategy for communicating in it that I liked but, again, requires people to listen, participate, and care, which is the whole game, I guess).

If and when the endeavor fails, what are you left with? Do you feel resentment for not piercing the barriers of human cultural consciousness, like it’s everyone’s fault? Do you feel small, an insignificant cog in a huge machine? Do you cling to the few fleeting connections you have made? Do you question the merits of continuing?

Admission time: I have felt all of those before, and will feel them again.

Nobody owes anyone else their attention, especially in the matter of a fictional book. You’ve got to earn it. Would that maybe be what the point of marketing is? To earn a few minutes of attention, and maybe a sale? Or, to be more cynical, to trick people into paying attention?

Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The What in my case is Gone To Wonder. But Why do I write stories, and why do I ask you to read them? Because stories are the most important thing to me. It touches on the core theme of my story itself—we have the power to shape our narratives in whatever fantastic ways we want.

If you’re going to buy my stories, I don’t want you to do it because it’s in a genre category you sometimes read, or you like the cover, or you saw that other people read it and rated it. I want you to read it because you feel the same way I do about stories. I want you to care about it, and by extension me and my “brand”, because my stories and the articles we write for the Bard matter to you.

All the best intentions in the world won’t get you anywhere, though. My book is available on Kindle for $2.99, but to prove this isn’t yet another wailing cry of desperation, I’m going to give it to you for free. No, not everyone. Not that guy over there, forget him. Just you. And I don’t care if you copy it and give it away to others, or if you read it but don’t say a word to a soul, or if you shit all over it on every social media platform known to man. I don’t care, because if you got this far and take the effort to contact me, I’m going to assume you care about the same thing I do, and that is story.

To get the book, just shoot me an email at beardedbards(at)gmail(dot)com, I’ll zip you a pdf copy, and it’s yours forever. Also, Andrew is making the same offer for Tim and the Break-up of Impending Doom.

We continue to define the ‘why’ of the Bearded Bards, with our upcoming shift in posting style, but let there be no doubt in, the ‘why’ of me:

My whole life, I’ve been obsessed with fantastic stories, and imagined what it would be like to be a part of them. I write about the day that we can all shape our worlds into fantastical realms and our lives into the stories we always dreamed about. If you’ve ever pictured yourself as the hero of a story, then you too have gone to wonder.

Thanks for stopping by, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about marketing, stories, and I’d love to hear your ‘why’s, too.

It’s (a)Live!

Standard

ahkindle

 

I wrote a thing, and now you can read that thing. That’s right, the thing I’ve been jabbering about on the blog and Twitter is available now for your reading pleasure. I posted it Saturday night, and it has been flying off the shelves! Okay, that was a lie, it was never on any shelves.

What’s the book called? It’s called Absent Hero, the first episode in a series called Gone To Wonder. For a brief description, here’s the blurb:

In the middle of Denver lies the most extraordinary building on Earth: Finnegan’s Wonder. Inside, a theme park unlike any other, full of mechanical men, pirates, airplanes, and monsters. It’s a place that seventeen-year-old Wendy and her friends have dedicated their lives to experiencing and documenting. But when the visionary creator of the Wonder, Clayton Ferris, is usurped, the place Wendy loves so much is in jeopardy. It’s up to her and her friends to unravel secrets, brave out-of-control robots, and face down the richest man on the planet to save Finnegan’s Wonder.

Suspenseful, swashbuckling, and dramatic, Gone to Wonder is a journey that chronicles what happens when make-believe becomes real.

Wow! Sounds fun, right? …right?

Well, for a less brief description, I’ll tell you a bit more about the book, and the rest of the series, and it’s origins. Gone To Wonder features a theme park. If you know me well, that should not surprise you. (If you don’t know me, you probably aren’t surprised either, but for different reasons). Theme parks have been important to me for most of my life. Like many kids, my parents took me to various parks when I was young, but unlike most people, they’ve become lodged in my psyche. They are a form of art, blending many disciplines, with the aim to take you out of the normal world and give you an experience. And that experience is a narrative one, whether it is directly or indirectly.

In GtW, the theme park is called Finnegan’s Wonder. It’s an indoor theme park (inside a massive building), of which there aren’t many in the world, but besides that it’s a bit different from parks you might experience in the real world. The Wonder, as it is called for short, is based around a single property, a series of video games and other media, originated by a mysterious, reclusive genius named Clayton Ferris (think Walt Disney meets Howard Hughes). Ferris has taken the narrative form seriously—it’s the core of the Wonder, the thing that he decided to make the park for.

The best way to describe it is it’s as if you were inside a video game, only without the more game-like components. Imagine if you could step into the world of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, and not just watch it happen around you, but interact with it, be part of the story, and even be the hero of the story. In this case, every day inside the Wonder, a Hero is selected (and yes, for simplicity’s sake, the masculine is default—more on this in future episodes). That Hero is a normal guest who, because some narrative choices throughout their day, is singled out for having the best story of the day, and

That’s the idea that caught me, that made me want to write this series. In fact, it has so captured my imagination that the core concept, a narrative-based park, a “story park” if you will, has ballooned outward. Gone To Wonder is just the start, and Absent Hero is just the start of that.

What is Absent Hero itself about? It’s about a girl named Wendy, and a single day at the Wonder. Wendy is seventeen, and she is a huge fan of the Wonder. How big? Well, for about a year, she has visited every day. She likes it, obviously, but that’s not the only reason she’s been every day. Wendy is a young woman who never had the best time in social situations, like school, but she’s had an even greater struggle since her mother died.

One night, though, something happens that will change the Wonder forever. Clayton Ferris, the semi-mythic creator of the Finnegan World, is forced out of his own company by his partner, Charles DeWitt. DeWitt, citing flagging attendance and profit, rallies the board of directors against Ferris.

Wendy and her friends struggle with what this means to them and to the place they love. How much say do fans have in these creations? That’s something I’ve pondered myself. On the one hand, the creators of a thing own that thing, in a legal sense. On the other, I do believe that, once a story has become part of the cultural zeitgeist, it should not be changed lightly. Profit motive notwithstanding, narratives are cultural objects, whether they are religious myths or Star Wars.

Over the course of one day, Wendy becomes embroiled in the story like she never has before—like no one has before. Something is happening, beyond the control of the employees, maybe beyond the control of DeWitt. It may even be the work of Clayton Ferris. Wendy and her friends aren’t sure, but what becomes apparent is that Wendy may have the opportunity to change the fate of a story, to take control of the property.

Gone To Wonder, as a whole, is about an evolution of entertainment. If we have the capacity to surround ourselves completely with a story, where does myth end and life begin? There’s an excellent book that came out this year, called Every Guest Is A Hero by former Imagineer Adam Berger, that discusses how Campbellian monomyth structure is applied in a theme park setting. In Gone To Wonder, that’s a theme I aim to explore, and far beyond.

I’ve begun working on Episode Two, but in the meantime, pick up a copy of Episode One, available exclusively on the Kindle store (as well as Kindle Unlimited, which I recently signed up for—my review of that service coming soon). I’d really love to hear what you think. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on the blog.

Cover Art for Gone To Wonder Episode One

Standard

I shared this on Twitter last week, but dammit I’m so excited about it I wanted to post it here, too. Below, in glorious high definition, is the cover art for the first part of my Gone To Wonder series. It will be out soon. How soon? Maybe this weekend! That’s pretty darn soon, you guys.

cover3

I’ll also be launching a page with more information on the series soon. In the meantime, check out this post for a preview. Stick around for more updates!

Should Writing Be A Business?

Standard

Yesterday, Andrew had a great rundown of the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited service, which if you haven’t heard is Netflixizing the book industry. I’ve tried out KU, and I especially like the potential it has for audiobooks, which are otherwise expensive.

Andrew made a point to talk about how KU works from an author’s perspective. It’s this angle that has me most concerned. Royalties become murkier in the Unlimited world. The reader pays Amazon for the ability to download books, then Amazon decides what each authors gets from their coffers. A author doesn’t get paid just because someone downloads their book. They have to read (or scroll) a certain percentage in order for it to count.

What?

This is new territory. Things like Netflix pay studios for licensing rights. They get a contract that says they can stream a movie or TV show for a certain amount of time. I can understand that, because it is just like TV stations have operated for a while. KU doesn’t work that way. You grant Amazon the right to distribute your work. For a few extra benefits, you can sign up for KDP Select. When you do, you grant Amazon the right to distribute your work through their Unlimited program.

What is the benefit to the author? You do not receive a licensing fee. You get the chance at a piece of the pot that Amazon sets aside. Some might say you get the opportunity for exposure, if you’re a new or little-known author. I skeptical on the results. A few authors might catch on this way, but for the vast majority of the thousands of indie publishers, the results will be minimal.

And that feeds into a greater issue that I’ve discussed on the blog before. Why do writers write? Specifically, why does the modern, independent, self-publishing writer do what he or she does? I’ll tell you what my goals are. The two big ones are to be a good writer and to make a living doing it. Simple, right? But I often see these two at odds. I look at some of the success stories of self-publishing and I see authors that are making good money while writing, well, crap. One sci-fi book in particular that I’ve recently read was a grab-bag of stupid, but is consistently at the top of the charts. Conversely, the few self-published books I’ve encountered that I consider quality have not, as far as I know, sniffed the upper echelons of the Kindle rankings. This could be my tastes that are the problem, that my measure of quality is off. Nevertheless, I aspire to create vital works, so what does it say that I’m throwing my lot in with the self-published crowd and attempting to be commercially viable?

To be the best writer I can, I would love to dedicate all my energy to writing. But I can’t. I have a day job. I have to edit my works, I have to be active on social media and write blogs, I have to work with artists, I have to produce the ebook, write blurbs, and manage my titles. All of this takes away from time I could spend honing craft and perfecting stories. Is it possible to become a good writer while also being a successful self-published author? I don’t know.

Respect for self-publishing is increasing. Indies aren’t lazy, they work hard. But are the stories as good as they can be? What do you think?

 

Amazon Unlimited and the Ten Percent Scroll

Standard

There’s a lot of news about Amazon Unlimited going around right now. Between the worries about the program as a whole, the perhaps lack of innovation in the product, and the ongoing fight between Amazon and the Big 5 publishers (and their refusal to participate in the program at all), there is a lot of news out there about Amazon Unlimited.

But Amazon Unlimited and what it means to consumers is not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about it the payment system for authors who self publish and have their books downloaded through Amazon Unlimited. The majority of the 600,000 plus titles that are available on Amazon Unlimited are titles that have been published by self published authors. And these authors will only get a payout if their books are downloaded and the first ten percent of their book is read.

That’s right. Just downloading a self published author’s book does not necessarily mean that the author will get paid. You also need to read through at least the first ten percent  of the book — or just scroll through, but we’ll get to that.

Being a self published author is a hard, low paying endeavor. There is little more in it for the author than the happiness that comes with putting one of your works out there to be enjoyed by the world. Often times a self published book is rarely downloaded (quick plug! go check out my self published book Tim and the Break Up of Impending Doom), and there is little real payment for what you have put all your hard work into.

I’m not against the practice by Amazon. They are a business and they have built a business model that they think works. It is unfortunate that this business model has been built on top of the thousands of authors who publish on Amazon, but that’s just the way it is. People won’t stop publishing on Amazon, and Amazon won’t stop practices that it deems to be in its best interests. (Plus, we tricky authors have maddening methods in order to get paid!)

What do you do about it, though? Well, I have an idea. It is my vision that if you have Amazon Unlimited (or Lending Library — which has the same ten percent in order to get paid practice), if you download a book you scroll through the first ten percent as soon as its finished downloading. That way, even if the book turns out to not be your thing, if you get busy and aren’t able to finish the book, or whatever the reason may be, at least the author will get paid. At least the person who put all that hard work forward will get a payment for their book being downloaded. And, if you really enjoy the book, maybe consider outright buying the book instead of just getting it through Amazon Unlimited. That way, you are giving the author their full royalties. If not, at least scroll the ten percent — and spread the word with #scrolltenpercent on twitter, Facebook, and all the other social media sites — and help some poor self published authors out!

Screaming Into The Void

Standard

There is a lot of noise out there. In recent years, that noise has become almost deafening. When the internet came about, the noise which was once controlled by publishers and studios grew exponentially. And with self publishing that noise has grown even more. There is just a lot of stuff out there all trying to get your attention.

But that’s not a bad thing for consumers. It means that there are many more choices out there. It means that you are not stuck with only a handful of choices. And, most importantly it means that you will be able to find something that you truly love — not just a summer blockbuster or hardcover best seller that studios and publishers think you will love.

For creators, this is not such a good thing. It’s like I stated above — you are screaming into the void. There are so many different pieces of work out there that it almost seems like when you put something out, it disappears into a void. At times, it feels like your piece of work will never be seen. Then you are left screaming into the void in order to try and get people to look at, and perhaps buy, your work.

I have a little experiment I want to try. I want to see if I can get a few more voices to scream into that void with me, and maybe make it a little bit brighter. If you do scream into the void with me, your prize will be a copy of the newest Bearded Bards publication, Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom. All you have to do is tweet out, post on Facebook, Pinterest, Goole +, or any other social media of your choice, this link to Tim and the Breakup of Impending Doom (http://amzn.com/B00LKUYKJG). Either link to us via your post (@BeardedBards on twitter, Bearded Bards on everything else), email us with proof that you did the post (beardedbards@gmail.com), or leave a comment here!

That’s it. A little help screaming into that void and you will get yourself a copy of a free ebook. And, of course, our everlasting appreciation.

Oh, and if you are just interested in picking up the book, here is the Amazon link to the title:

 

"/

 

Weekly Wrap-Up

Standard

Dancing Couple, Boardman Robinson, from the Met

Another week has come and gone, and the weekend is upon us. Here’s a few stories you might have missed this week:

George R.R. Martin is going to kill this guy

Someone donated enough money to a campaign sponsored by Martin to meet the highest reward level. That reward? Getting a character named after you written into the Song of Ice and Fire series. And then getting that character killed. We can only assume David Goldblatt will die in horrible agony.

Self-Publishing is blowing up right now

You know all them publishing houses and their dwindling sales numbers? Turns out, people aren’t buying that much less books, they’re just not buying as many from publishers. Or in print. According to this article from The Guardian, people in the UK bought 18 million self-published titles last year, a 76 percent increase. Well done, UK.

Speaking of publishing…

I’ve read a couple more interesting responses to the Hachette-Amazon thing this week, including this article from a PhD candidate. She makes a great point about the gate-keepers of literature and how they’ve historically controlled what’s been considered “serious art”. She also points out that newer generations of lit majors are writing dissertations on comic books and other things that Ruth Graham wouldn’t like. I had a professor in college, in fact, that was working on a dissertation and presentation on zombies. Yes, she was an awesome professor.

And finally

Round the Bearded Bards, things are in motion. I introduced my book series Gone To Wonder, Andrew is nearing completion of the first episode of his own series, and we’re getting even more projects lined up for your reading pleasure.

That’s it for this week, enjoy the respite. We’ll see you Monday.