Halloween tastes funny

This isn’t about bashing Halloween. I’m alright with Halloween. It’s not my favorite holiday, but it’s up there. This isn’t about how it is a hipster holiday, either, where everyone sarcastically celebrates the anti-religious overtone and engages in a pseudo-mockery of faux-revelry. (Really, is anything worth a genuine emotional reaction in hipsterdom? Don’t answer that. I stopped caring ten words ago.) It isn’t even about the inevitable duels for cleverest costumes among people who dress up as the latest killed character from the Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or insert-obscure-AMC/HBO/Showtime-original-series. No, it has nothing to do with hipsters. I’m alright with hipsters. They’re adorable, after all. No, for me it has to do with Halloween literally leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

 

"Young man, is this going to a naughty place?"

“Young man, is this going to a naughty place?”

 

Have you ever tasted fake blood? Don’t. It’s terrible. I once had the distinct displeasure of ingesting this horrible substance one Halloween when I was just a tiny Tone of Voice and it’s dreadful taste scarred me for life. I think it was the time my big brother had the great idea of dressing me up as the monster from the movie C.H.U.D. by using bits and pieces scavenged form other Halloween costumes. My brother’s personal touch? Using White-Out to scrawl PUD on the back of my vampire cape, so that instead of a Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, I was simply a Pretty Ugly Dude. My brother found this riotously funny, but our mother was less than amused. I didn’t mind. I’ve never really minded being the butt of jokes, as long as they were funny. Teasing I’m not especially fond of, but a good joke is a good joke.

Unfortunately, no one got the joke, but I looked pitiful enough to score the usual bag of candy, so it all turned out in my favor anyway. Well, except for the fake blood. At some point, someone (I don’t know, maybe it was me) decided to add fake blood to whatever mask I was wearing, which would have been fine if the mask had any sort of absorbancy. Alas, it did not, so the stuff dribbled straight into the mouth hole and onto my lips.

If you’re wondering what fake blood tastes like, it’s a palate cleansing mix of plastic, falseness and melancholy. Three horrible tastes that taste like death together. I don’t think I got sick, I just know I couldn’t get that taste out of my mouth no matter how many mini-Snickers I inhaled.

 

"This candy tastes like failure and regret. Does this mean I'm an adult now?"

“This candy tastes like failure and regret. Does this mean I’m an adult now?”

 

To this day, I always suppress a shudder when I see people dressed up like zombies, their faces and clothes drenched in the supposedly “non-toxic” pseudo-plasma. “Non-toxic.” Pffft. Tell that to my flavor-memory. Seriously, there are times I will get this unfortunate taste appearing in my mouth from out of nowhere. I have no idea what triggers it, and for a long time I could not trace what it was or what it was linked to. (My dentist suspects it’s likely a leaky filling, and she’s probably right, but her logic and science aren’t welcome here!) I don’t know how I finally remembered. I suppose I eventually broke through the mental barrier I had built up around it and determined it was from that unfortunate Halloween. But even knowing its source, it still pounces on me from out of nowhere. In fact, it even hits me whenever I get too close to a heavily made-up woman.

Yes, this even affected my dating life, but for the better I think. People who wear too much make-up are duplicitous by nature. I once went on a date with a nice young woman who kinda-sorta looked and sounded like Meg Tilly. Trouble was, she wore so much make-up she also kinda-sorta looked like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. So, Elvira crossed with Meg Tilly. I know most of you are like “NOT BAD!” Well, I suppose it would have been, except for my aforementioned aversion to makeup. I couldn’t conceive of getting close enough to kiss her, let alone anything more intimate. Needless to say, that romance lasted all of one date, but I later found out from mutual acquaintances that she was a bit of a man-eater, so it was fortunate I had kept my distance.

 

"Vaht's the problem? You like the boys, maybe?"

“Vaht’s the problem? You like the boys, maybe?”

 

That’s not really how Elvira talked, but I just couldn’t bring myself to mimic her trademark valley girl/jersey girl accent.

But this just recently got me thinking that about the larger issue of selling yourself as something you’re not. It’s a topic I’m always grappling with as I try to figure out the best way to market my books. There are things that I have decided I simply will not do, because they just seem to me to be too fake and too gimmicky. Fake and gimmicky is fine for Halloween, but not for me. I don’t want to try to sell my books in categories they don’t belong simply to get a good Amazon ranking. I don’t want to constantly spam twitter/facebook/this blog or a mailing list with constant reminders about how great the Adventures of Grant Scotland series is (even though it’s pretty great, to be honest) in the hopes that eventually enough people will tiredly mis-click (or mis-tap) and end up buying a copy. I don’t want to engage in review trading with other authors and I definitely don’t want to buy reviews.

But I have to do something. I’m fine with marketing on Twitter and Facebook and all the rest regularly (but not constantly) and being patient as my audience slowly grows, but I sure would like to give the whole process a boost if I could. I’m currently thinking about doing a blog tour, which is essentially like paying for reviews, but it’s the LEAST offensive way to do it. Also, it’s a form of review buying that everyone does, from big publishers to self-publishers, so it’s generally considered to be kosher. We’ll see. I know the people who run those sites greatly prefer to do tours only for books that are about to be released, not existing titles, so I’ll keep it in mind for Book Four.

Well, that’s about it from me for tonight. As always, thanks for stopping by and spending some time reading about my fear of fake blood. Is there a name for that? Pseudo-hemophobia?

So long, folks! Tip your driver!

 

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Time Travel is Stupid and other observations

So, today is Back To the Future Day (or #BackToTheFutureDay for all you Twitter fiends) and I couldn’t be more ambivalent. Everyone is celebrating this day like it is both a National Holiday and Day of Mourning. I even saw a little video detailing how many things the movies predicted would happen by 2015 and nearly all of them have. This is no big thing, by the way. You can take a film like 2001 or a show like Star Trek and do the same thing. The human capacity to forge our own realities seems to continually amaze people. I think the only thing Back to the Future failed to predict was the enormity of its own lasting popularity deep into 2015. Look, I liked the movies. I remember seeing and enjoying them in the 80’s, but I never would have guessed they would have had as much staying power as they’ve had. Honestly, in 1985, I would have sworn that Ice Pirates would have ultimately proven to be more successful. I still think it should have. Shows what I know. We miss you, Robert Urich!

 

Look at that. Nobody swaggered like Urich.

Look at that man. Nobody swaggered like Urich.

 

Anyway, I thought this would be a great time for me to sound off about all the problems I have with any story that involves time travel. Although it is one of the most popular  science fiction plot engines, it also happens to be the worst. Seriously. Stories about monkeys taking over the planet are better than anything involving hopping back and forth in time. So, what’s my beef with temporal high jinks?

Well it’s just one thing, to be honest. And it’s not scientific. Time travel is possible, most especially for going into the future. In fact, you can see this happen on an everyday basis. All you have to do is take a long flight. Going backwards through time is still pretty iffy, but who cares? This is science fiction after all. No, my main bone of contention with time travel in movies and books is the blatant disregard of plot holes.

Plot holes are the things that sink a story. I’ve written before that they can be small and therefore not leak too much suspension of disbelief, but they can also be Titanic-hitting-the-iceberg huge. Time travel plot holes invariably fall into the latter category. The one that bothers me the most also happens to be the most common one I’ve noticed. It occurs when the writer neglects to carry the accounting of cause and effect to its ultimate conclusion. Take Back to the Future, for instance. Marty goes back in time and fixes the screw ups he inadvertently causes so he can make sure his parents get together. All well and good, but along the way he also can’t resist adding in a few “improvements” that result in his parents being happier and more successful when he travels back to the future/his present.

That is, he thinks it’s his present, when in reality it is not. None of the memories that Marty McFly have are valid any longer. The life he once knew no longer exists. So, how can he remember his mom and dad being losers when it clearly never happened? One answer is that it did happen, but he did not travel back to that timeline. Instead, he traveled forward to the new timeline created by his actions. So, what then? Is time subjective? Do each of us only have timelines we perceive and others are not real? I hope not. That would be a highly anti-social stance to take. Is Marty a god, then? Are we all just living at the pleasure of his timeline? Or did he travel back to the future and somehow supplant the Marty McFly that had existed in that future – a future created by the Marty-McFly-with-loser-parents? What happened to the happy Marty-who-only-knew-winner-parents?

 

Poof?

Poof?

 

And let’s never mind the whole Travel-Back-In-Time-To-Kill-Hitler headache. If you traveled back in time to kill Hitler and were successful in preventing WWII, you could not conceivably come back. Why? Because the whole reason your time machine was invented ceased to be. There’s no longer a future where you sent yourself back, so how did it ever happen? Or did you think that everyone in your future suddenly breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Thank God you went back and killed Hitler! Now come on back and we’ll all talk about these fake memories we have” and then went on about their day? No, seems like if you really believe in cause and effect, then it’s a one-way trip, so get comfortable in the Weimar Republic, baby! Catch a cabaret or two and try not to have sex with your grandparents. That is, unless you believe in alternate timelines. You still shouldn’t have sex with your grandparents, but you can stay in the past and live out your life in the alternate timeline OR you can travel forward and see what the new one would look like – assuming it was technically possible, of course. And if you believe in alternate timelines, which I do, then why bother with time travel at all? Surely, at some point in time in the future (or maybe the past?), someone has already tried this and WWII was averted, only we didn’t get to see the results. Well, the “we” in this timeline, anyway.

 

"Nyah-nyah. Looks like you're stuck with me."

“Nyah-nyah. Looks like you’re stuck with me.”

 

This stuff just makes me crazy.

No, the only time travel plots I can stomach have more to do with letting go of the past than changing it. The Buttterfly Effect is a good one. The more the protagonist tries to change the past to “fix” the present, the more he destroys his life. We are forged by our experiences – to try to go back and change them is to unmake ourselves. So, when used as metaphor, time travel is ok. When used as an actual sci-fi plot engine, it’s unfailingly horrible.

Thanks for hanging out, everyone! Don’t forget to tip your driver!

Notes from the Self-Pubbed, (Issue #3)

Hello again, self-publishing fans! Welcome to another installment of Notes from the Self-Pubbed, the only self-publishing blog series (except for all the others, of course) that gives you the straight dope on this exciting and wacky internet cottage industry. Actually, although plenty of sites write about it, I haven’t found many that do so in anything but the most vague, self-promotional terms. I did, however, recently find this one. If you like this series, you should check her out as well. She does a good job cutting through the crap. That’s basically what I’m doing here, too. I am very deliberately not trying to sugar coat my self-publishing efforts. This is both for you and for me. If I keep saying things like “sales are steady” or “last week’s promotion increased sales over 200%” when what I really mean is “I’m selling the same 2 copies a week I’ve been selling all year” and “I sold 7 copies this week because I paid for some ad space,” then there’s a very real chance I’ll drink my own kool-aid and burn out and give up once I get tired of lying to myself.

So, I’ll try to keep these Notes as clean of bullshit as possible, no matter the pounding my ego may take. Writing is something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. Best to keep the fantasy for the fiction.

It’s important to remember that this industry (and this goes for both traditional and self-publishing, actually) is not for the feint of heart! It is not for the quitters! While it’s true that you may get lucky and publish something that becomes an instant bestseller, you most likely won’t. However, if you stay honest with yourself and keep writing, publishing, promoting, blogging, tweeting and doing anything and everything else you can then there’s a not unreasonable chance you’ll someday find your audience. But for self-pubbers, you’ll have the added benefit of having done it without having to give up any of your rights or split your royalties with anyone but your distributor. I think that’s worth the effort and the patience.

 

"I got a sword and this here crucifix-softball for anyone trying to steal my royal-ties."

“I got a sword and this here crucifix-softball for anyone trying to steal my royal-ties.”

 

And what precious data have my recent efforts yielded to me? Well, as you may recall, I was dead set on finishing my cross-platform promotion of the Grant Scotland series that I had begun in early summer. I had started with the newest book, Wayward Daughter, in July and achieved less than ideal results. In August, I promoted my first book, Dead Empire, and had an almost break-even return on investment. And at the end of September, I finished the campaign by promoting Troubled King at $0.99 for the week of 9/23 to 9/30 across Kindle/Kobo/Apple/Nook. I used three different advertisers, plus a small Facebook boost on the Grant Scotland Community Page. Let’s take a look at the set up cost:

Booksends newsletter ad space for 9/23 – $25

Booktastik newsletter ad space for 9/24 – $10

EReader News Today newsletter ad space for 9/24 – $20

Facebook community page promotional post boost for two days starting 9/23 – $5

Total marketing expense: $60

——————————————————————————————————————–

And lets take a look at those sales from 9/23 to 9/30:

Spy for a Dead Empire Amazon sales: 5 copies @ $3.99

Spy for a Troubled King sales: 33 copies @$0.99

Spy for a Wayward Daughter: 0 copies @$3.99

NOTE: All sales were Kindle. No other sales reported from other platforms to date.

Total Sales: $53

 

Well, we still didn’t manage to break even, but we came even closer than last time. That’s progress! I bet even The Donald has to acknowledge that!

 

"If I'm ever thinking of hiring you for anything, remind me to fire you first."

“If I’m ever thinking of hiring you for anything, remind me how much you need to be fired.”

 

Ouch. Truth hurts. Ok, fair enough. I guess I can’t claim any real success with this promotion or even with the entire summer campaign. I CAN however claim a lot of important lessons learned:

  1. Stop investing in advertisers that don’t yield satisfactory returns.
  2. Stop scheduling advertisers to run ads on the same day. This was an insight passed on to me by some smart marketing people I know, albeit too late to save the campaign, but it’ll be invaluable moving forward.
  3. It’s not yet time to break from the herd. As expected, Amazon sales FAR outweighed other platforms. Get back on Kindle Unlimited and utilize all that Amazon has to offer.

Oh. Almost forgot. Here’s the sales breakdown by date:

9/23 (Booksends & Facebook) – 9 units

9/24 (Booktastic/EReaderNewsToday & Facebook) – 25 units

9/25 (Nothing) – 1 unit

9/26 (Nothing) – 1 unit

9/27 (Nothing) – 1 unit

9/28 (Nothing) – None

9/29 (Nothing) – None

9/30 (Nothing) – 1 unit

It should be noted that I made an effort to promote the sale on Twitter during several days of the campaign, but I have no way of tracking the effectiveness of that. It’s curious that no sales were made on Apple/Nook/Kobo. It suggests that Fussy Librarian and/or Bargain Booksy has a substantial cross platform following that EReader does not. The dates I got sales on Nook correspond to the dates my ads appeared on both of those sites. Well, good stuff to keep in mind.

So, where to now? Well, I’m obviously going back to Kindle Unlimited with the first three books, but I think I’ll keep the omnibus edition present everywhere. Maybe see if I can sneak in a promotion with that one at some point. Beyond that, I’ll be scheduling some Countdown deals over the next few months and I’ll likely still do some advertising to correspond to the deal days, but I’m not sure how much at this point. Also, I’ve got something VERY special in mind for the height of the Holiday Season. I think you’ll like it. No hints, but you definitely don’t want to miss it.

Until next time, self-pub fans! Take care of yourself and remember to tip your driver!