Why we write

The chief benefit of publishing an e-book through Smashwords is the distribution channel–Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBooks and indie e-book retailer Kobo. There’s one other feature writers might consider, an interview with the author. Here’s mine:

What motivated you to become an indie author?

After sending queries to 76 agents, I received a number of kind comments but no offers of representation. Then an indie author alerted me to Joanna Penn and The Creative Penn podcasts about the publishing industry. I found her rationale for going independent so compelling I decided to learn as much as I could. The materials on Smashwords were also a great help. In an increasingly DIY world, indie publishing makes a lot sense.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

The greatest joy of writing is the process, the act of writing. Something I think publishing is just an excuse to keep writing.

What do your fans mean to you?

Fans mean contact with people who share common interests and feelings. The feel of a book is so important, and so elusive, especially during the drafting phase, when the author is isolated from others. To hear that I’ve entertained or touched someone else . . . that’s the real joy of writing.

Peak Season 3D cover 375x548What are you working on now?

I’m writing the sequel to Peak Season, the second book in the CW McCoy series. It’s called Tourist in Paradise and starts with the premise that someone is trying to kill the tourism industry in Southwest Florida. I’m also working on the audiobook version of Mr. Mayhem, the first in the Brinker series of crime novels. It’s high-concept, the kind of treatment you’d expect to see on HBO or Amazon Prime.

Who are your favorite authors?

An eclectic group of crime novelists ranging from Raymond Chandler, Ken Bruen and Chelsea Cain (“One Kick) to Robert B. Parker, Sara Paretsky, Ruth Rendell and Tony Hillerman. I like the Anns–Anne Lamott, Annie Proulx, Anne Tyler and Anna Quindlen. I also like the romantics, Jennifer Crusie and Janet Evanovich, and British writers P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster) and John Mortimer (Rumpole of the Bailey).

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

Another chance to create, to build new worlds and live inside them.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Hiking, taking photos, reading, listening to classical music and NPR.

How do you discover the e-books you read?

I follow recommendations from fellow members of my writers’ groups.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

No, but I remember a wonderful professor who rekindled my interest in fiction to such a degree that I wrote a book-length collection of short stories. Now that’s inspiration.

What is your writing process?

I try to write first thing in the morning and save marketing and social media for later in the day.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?

I remember my parents reading to me, and since then, I’ve grown fond of spoken-word audio.

Riding 3D coversHow do you approach cover design?

After design the cover of my first nonfiction book, The Spirit of Swiftwater, I wisely took the advice of a seasoned indie author and hired a professional to design the covers of Peak Season, Mr. Mayhem and Riding with the Blues. The designers have captured the tone of the work better than I ever could.

What are your five favorite books, and why?

Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman, Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan and Road Rage by Ruth Rendell. Let’s add a sixth: California Fire and Life by Don Winslow. All offer sensitive characters thrust into compelling situations.

What do you read for pleasure?

Standalone books like The Girl on the Train and series novels by Parker, Hillerman, Rendell, Grimes and the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse. (Who can top Jeeves and Wooster?)

What is your e-reading device of choice?

I have an iPad mini and a Kindle and I’m looking forward to buying an Android tablet in the near future.

What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?

Social media and word of mouth, although I will send review copies to journalists and bloggers.

Describe your desk

My dining room table.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?

I grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, a once-rural area that attracted tourists to the clean mountain air. Perched on the border with New Jersey, it is now a bedroom community for New York. The area inspired a love of nature and a desire to experience the art and culture found in the city.

Mr Mayhem 3d_coverWhat’s the story behind your latest book?

After moving to Florida, I decided to revisit a lifelong interest in fiction. During a writing class, the instructor suggested we turn a short story into a news report and a news story into a piece of short fiction. As a working journalist, the first part felt easy. (I chose one of my favorites, a John Updike short story.) For the second part, I found an article about a fugitive financier that fascinated me and turned it into a short story. I liked the product and the process so much, I worked the character into the novel Peak Season and created someone worthy of challenging him, CW McCoy, a woman who had renounced violence . . . under the fugitive kidnaps her family.

For the second novel, Mr. Mayhem, I channeled some of the anger at literary rejection and cynicism about public relations and marketing in general.

When did you first start writing?

In elementary school.

What’s next for you?

The debut of Mr. Mayhem and the character of Brinker, a disgraced journalist doing PR for a funeral home and its trolley tour of murder sites in rural Pennsylvania. He hates the job, the place and himself. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders to draw a crowd. An assassin would help. The audio version should be a killer.

All the news that’s fit to break

Fans of “The Office” will enjoy the mockumentary format of the new book trailer for Peak Season, which came out in audio last week.

Breaking News 'Peak Season' trailer.jpgIn a tongue-in-cheek takeoff of shows like “Entertainment Tonight,” the broadcaster casts the debut of the CW McCoy crime series as breaking news, giving it the proper gravitas, with a bit of wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Here’s the video. (You can also watch it on YouTube.) Enjoy the show.

 

[iframe id=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/AKINV7q0NrA”%5D

Now hear this . . . tips on creating audiobooks

Kids aren’t the only people who like to hear a story.

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans listened to an audiobook in 2013. Adults with higher levels of education are more likely to have read audiobooks than those who did not attend college. And the vast majority of those who read e-books and audiobooks also read print books.

Good news for writers who like to listen to as well as tell stories.

Convinced audio could prove a way to boost my audience, I contracted with an Amazon service called ACX to produce an audio version of my first novel, Peak Season. ACX connects authors with producers and distributors of digital files, in this case, iTunes and Audible.com. It does not produce CDs.

ACX made it easy to import cover art and relevant details of the novel from Amazon. I completed a form with the specs I wanted–a female narrator with a voice in the lower range, speaking in American English with no regional accent. After uploading a short script that called for multiple voices, I listened to sample readings from producers, asked for auditions and even reached out to friends who have a flair for this kind of work.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Choosing a narrator from the auditions proved difficult. All of them sounded professional. Most handled the multiple voices well, even the male characters. A few got creative and tossed in southern or Jersey accents. Two producers offered to include a short musical segment at the beginning and end of the narration, just as traditional publishers do.

The decision was entirely subjective. At the risk of sounding deranged, it came down to a choice of who sounded most like the voices in my head. I chose Pamela Almand, who does business as The Captain’s Voice. (She’s a former pilot. More on that in a later post.) The Audible.com cover appears at left. The audio version of the book should be listed on Amazon by the end of October.

For those of you who’d like to hear your work produced as an audiobook, a few suggestions:

Research the format before you head over to ACX. These projects take just as much work and time as independent print and e-book publishing. Fellow writer Erika Liodice (Empty Arms) has written a pair of insanely detailed posts on creating and marketing audiobooks, Navigating the Next Frontier in Digital Publishing: Audiobooks and 9 Easy & Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Audiobook. The posts are encyclopedic.

Read the contracts. ACX says it delivers royalties of up to 40% but one example shows authors receiving a little more than $2 on a $30 audiobook. Audible gives free product to new customers and discounts to members, actions that will reduce the list price of your audiobook, and your royalty. Some producers will accept half of your royalty payments in exchange for their narration. Others want an additional stipend for narrating a book that may not sell enough to earn royalties. And unlike other Amazon services such as CreateSpace for print and Kindle Direct Publishing for e-books, ACX doesn’t allow authors to set the price of their audiobook, so you can’t control the profit margin.

Finally, learn from the experts. Indie author Joanna Penn offers several tips for creating and marketing your work as an audiobook. When it comes to running your writing career as a business, she’s one of the leading voices in the field . . . and well worth a listen.

Scouting for talent with Kindle

In another effort to challenge traditional publishers, Amazon has announced a program to test and market e-books before they’re published.

Called Kindle Scout, the program allows authors to place their unpublished work before a focus group of readers. If they like your book, Amazon may offer an advance and royalties through a five-year contract.

It’s crowd-sourcing for the unpublished author. And the key word here is unpublished. Only e-books that have not seen publication in any form except blog posts are eligible for Kindle Scout.

Authors thinking about selling their e-books through competing channels such as iBooks and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK should read the fine print. Kindle Press acquires worldwide publication rights for e-book and audio formats in all languages. The e-book is automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

On the plus side, giving away a previously unpublished e-book enrolls the author in Amazon’s marketing program.

Amazon is looking for e-books in these categories: Romance, Mystery & Thriller, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Literature & Fiction. Action & Adventure, Contemporary Fiction, and Historical Fiction will be accepted within the Literature & Fiction category. To apply for the program, the author must be 18 or older with a valid U.S. bank account and a U.S. Social Security number or tax identification number.

Should you jump in? Only with eyes open. You can review the Kindle Scout guidelines here.

Kindle Scout

Stonewalled . . . and a glimmer of hope

When I pitched a review of Peak Season to Bill Kline, he respectfully declined. Lehigh Valley Business, the journal in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) he edits, doesn’t deal in fiction. But if I could find an except from the novel with a commercial theme, he’d run it.

And he did. (Always a stickler for readability, the subheads are his.) You can view the excerpt as a PDF and, in three weeks, the original online.

Bill and I go back. I worked with him when he served as copy chief of the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa. He created the paper’s first Sunday edition and made it a showcase. His content and design pushed the conservative newspaper into the modern world. During the early 2000, we both worked in the Valley. He served as a sports and Sunday editor at Allentown’s Morning Call  while I worked in public relations for an agency in Bethlehem.

LVB and I also go back. I wrote numerous articles for the publication when it was known as the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal. It’s now a diverse and colorful journal, online and off, led by an editor who isn’t afraid to stretch.

 

Peak Season excerpt LVB 8-17-15

Brave new (digital) world

Everything old is new again . . . thanks to a little help from my friends.

My new website launched today. In the words of Crosby, Stills and Nash, it was a long time coming.

Checking the Internet Archive, affectionately known as the Wayback Machine, my first website went live in 2002, back in the day of dialup service. It was designed by Tom Thornton, a true artist and a gentleman if ever there was one.

The next iteration, the version we just replaced, went online in 2009 with an update a few years ago by a blessing of a designer, Robyn Dombrowski of Creative Heads in Sarasota, Florida. For her fortitude, she gets the patience-in-the-face-of-ignorance award.

After six years, we discovered the custom features of the site didn’t play well with WordPress anymore. The site didn’t look like the home of an author, either, since we’d designed it to sell marketing communications services to corporate clients.

The new site emphasizes my shift in focus from nonfiction to fiction, specifically to a series of crime novels I’m developing around two characters, former detective CW McCoy and a defrocked journalist known as Brinker. The website incorporates new ways to share stories about them and the publishing industry through social media links and an e-newsletter called Behind the Book. And wonder of wonders, the new contraption is responsive, which means the site should adapt to any browser or device that taps into it.

It was a long time coming but we’ve finally caught up with the digital age. Here’s to good friends and guidance . . . and another decade on the Web.

Jeff Widmer

Who controls the news . . . and who profits?

A report out today by the Pew Research Center suggests the large digital companies have wrested control of the news you receive from the traditional media companies.

The report on the “State of the News Media 2012” draws two major conclusions:

  1. Rather than siphon viewers from news sites, mobile technology is increasing news consumption.
  2. Major digital networks like Google and Facebook increasingly exert control over news content and delivery.

Here’s the bright side of the report:

“New research released in this report finds that mobile devices are adding to people’s news consumption, strengthening the lure of traditional news brands and providing a boost to long-form journalism. Eight in ten who get news on smartphones or tablets, for instance, get news on conventional computers as well. People are taking advantage, in other words, of having easier access to news throughout the day – in their pocket, on their desks and in their laps.”

Here’s the dark side:

“At the same time, a more fundamental challenge that we identified in this report last year has intensified — the extent to which technology intermediaries now control the future of news.

“In the last year a small number of technology giants began rapidly moving to consolidate their power by becoming makers of ‘everything’ in our digital lives. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and a few others are maneuvering to make the hardware people use, the operating systems that run those devices, the browsers on which people navigate, the e-mail services on which they communicate, the social networks on which they share and the web platforms on which they shop and play. And all of this will provide these companies with detailed personal data about each consumer.”

It’s like allowing the electric company to control your data, or the telecom companies to tap your phones. For free. Then charge you for delivery.

Maybe the New York Times should change its motto.

Six degrees of reading

Want to see books similar to the ones you’re reading? Head over to Yasiv, a site that uses Amazon data to create a flowchart of recommendations. Created by Andrei Kashcha, the site serves up a web of book covers that, when clicked, lead to information about those titles. There’s also a box on the left that lists the volumes by title.

Kashcha describes Yasiv as “a visual recommendation service that helps people to choose the right product from Amazon’s catalog.” In addition to books Yasiv can web other products carried by Amazon including video games, music and movies, although a search for broad clothing categories such as skirts and pants yields only a single image. Good for Grand Theft Auto. Not so good for Vera Bradley.

Yasiv recommendation web for 'House of Silk' by Anthony Horowitz

Roll over Moses, e-readers outpace tablets

More Americans own e-book readers than tablet computers, according to a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Last year tablets like the iPad had a slight lead over e-readers such as Kindle and Nook. But by May of this year, 12% of U.S. adults said they own an e-reader while 8% own a tablet computer.

“The percent of U.S. adults with an e-book reader doubled from 6% to 12% between November 2010 and May 2011,” Pew reports. “Hispanic adults, adults younger than age 65, college graduates and those living in households with incomes of at least $75,000 are most likely to own e-book readers. Parents are also more likely than non-parents to own these devices.”

Owning one doesn’t mean you can’t own the other. The survey noted an overlap in ownership, with 3% of U.S. adults owning both devices.  Nine percent own an e-book reader but not a tablet while 5% own a tablet computer but not an e-reader.