Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Author: Will Entrekin (page 3 of 17)

A few weeks ago, my soon-to-be wife and I went out to a local mall to catch the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. I’d mostly looked forward to the flick, but only “mostly”–I didn’t enjoy the same rush of breathless anticipation I saw many others experience. I largely avoided most discussion of the movie, as I didn’t want either the storyline or the experience to be ruined, but I went in with hopes higher than I perhaps should have, for a very simple reason: I hoped watching the final installment and seeing the full story would cast new light and understanding on the second installment, The Dark Knight, which I’d found problematic for several reasons.

Sequels are notoriously difficult movies to make–it’s the rare sequel that turns out to be better than its predecessor. And where sequels are difficult, second installments in trilogies are nearly impossible. The few shining examples–The Empire Strikes Back, for example–only highlight how difficult it is to make a proper second installment.

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When publishing is a button, pretty much the only thing you really need to buy for access to that button is a computer, and chances are you don’t even really need a great one at that.

I published my first book, a self-titled debut collection no longer available, in 2007 during my first full year studying writing at USC. Back then, I had a Hewlett-Packard laptop, and I wrote the entire collection and laid it out in Microsoft Word. I used Photoshop for the cover.

I’d already had experience publishing by then; for the three years before, I’d been assistant editor of two nursing journals. I’d used programs like Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign. Working knowledge of those two programs was not just helpful but integral to making that book back then.

That’s no longer true, because publishing has changed so much. Honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want a PDF for digital publishing, which means several of those programs are no longer useful (a PDF is arguably necessary for CreateSpace, which I think is the best POD service available).

So you want to publish. What do you need?

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So there went three months.

Funny thing: I never stop writing. Haven’t stopped now. Been busy. Since April, Exciting Press has published like a dozen titles. Some mine, most not. And that’s on top of the fact that I moved in late July, but spent all of June and July doing so (June was packing, July was preparing the new house to be lived in). My fiancee and I purchased a house we have to reno a bit, so that’s meant new floors and new paints and new fixtures.

It’s been a lot of fun work I’m proud of. Few things are as empowering as installing a new ceiling light fixture.

And when I get busy, blogging’s always the first thing to go. Probably because I hate the word (“blog”? Blech), but also because it feels like it requires way more effort to be way more ephemeral. Even the sites that attract millions of readers every month require new posts every day (if not every hour), which means older stuff falls by the wayside and disappears from immediacy. And given the choice, I’d rather focus on what doesn’t. The Prodigal Hour won’t fall by the wayside. It may languish in obscurity and one day be forgotten, but it’s a novel, whole on its own and always ready to be discovered.

Every time I start to think I want to post something, I lose interest or over-analyze it. I posted a lot about publishing and Amazon and Kindle and marketing, but those things are really only of interest to other authors, not readers. Those things are probably utterly boring to readers.

And I loathe the idea of boring people, and that’s why I stop.

Which I suppose is why I’ve begun to concentrate more on actually getting work out there. I’ve always liked the aphorism that one could be known by one’s work, and honestly, if I could be known for writing and Exciting Press, that’s all I’d want. I could talk more about craft and fiction and writing, but then, do I want to be known as a great writer, or a great teacher of writing?

Of course: why not aim at both?

Maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll ignore it. Again. Because there’s always renovation, and another story to code. Right now we’re fixing up the house while planning our wedding. And then there will come the holidays and the honeymoon. We’ll see.

I updated the look and the feel here, wondering if that’ll help encourage direction forward. And by that I mean help me figure out what I want to do with this site, if anything at all.

Over the past week, I’ve quietly updated two Exciting Press titles, my short stories “Blues’n How to Play’em” and “A Song for Bedtime,” the latter of which began its life as “Struck by the Light of the Son.” Both had been included in the Sparks anthology I published with Simon Smithson in December 2010, and both later became the first standalone stories published by Exciting Press.

Both have taught me a lot about the market for short stories, and why Kindle might just be the best way to target that market.

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It’s amazing how much a simple sentence can change. Nine words. Nine simple words. How much and what it has changed . . . well, those things remain to be seen. But they’re the words that made me a no-longer-just-“self-published” author, and they’re the words that brought one of my favorite novels–as well as several others by its author–into the digital realm.

They’re the words that ended my review of Nick Earls’ Perfect Skin, and, in some part, they’re the words that are the reason I can link that title to the page on Amazon where you can purchase Perfect Skin for your Kindle (at the time of this writing, it’s still in process at Barnes & Noble, but you’ll soon be able to purchase it for Nook, too).

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When the free promotion for The Prodigal Hour translated to decent sales, I was impressed. Enough that I started to consider free promotions more strategically with the desire to use them both better and more deliberately, and I think that doing so is increasing sales.

In fact, I’m sure of it. Sales have increased, bit by bit, every month. Not by a whole lot, yet, but considering where they started, they’re building steadily and seem on pace to continue to do so.

So how?

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The other day, I talked a bit about my experiences using KDP Select as both an author and a publisher. I noted that I didn’t think timing made much difference and noted some things that hadn’t caught on in the way others had, but I’ve noticed some things I think do, and have some theories about some other elements besides.

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This past weekend, my novel Meets Girl was free at Amazon. I shared a link on Facebook and tweeted about it late last night, and in both posts I’d mentioned I’d previously forgotten to, but that was only mostly true. I did, in fact, forget to mention it on Saturday morning (I was getting ready for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s 2012 Hat Luncheon, which was a blast). I remembered it later that day, but by then I’d realized it was a good opportunity to conduct an experiment.

I see a lot of authors, and especially independent ones, participating in Amazon’s KDP Select program and taking advantage of the five free days the 90-day period of Amazon exclusivity grants. The two most important participants in publishing are writers and readers, and I think the program is great for both; readers get access to a ton of free books by authors they might not have heard of before or tried, and authors get new readers.

I see enough authors doing so, in fact, that it seems like free books are no longer news. Every day, my Twitter stream is filled with another author linking to a free book. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes all they tweet, ever, but that’s another issue entirely.

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This week’s free poetry collection celebrating National Poetry Month is Soliloquies & other poems. As I note within the text following the title poem, I got the phrase “I am but a poor player” lodged squarely in my head.

Which, of course, set me in pursuit of the Bard.

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I think “The Italian Job”–right now free–was the first Nick Earls short story I’d ever read. And I did so as his publisher.

I hadn’t been able to read much of Nick’s short work. I’m in America, and quite a bit of Nick’s work just hadn’t made it state-side, or, if it had, had gone out of print by the time I discovered his work via Perfect Skin. I’d managed a few of his adult novels–Zigzag Street and Bachelor Kisses, for two–but several others, including The Thompson Gunner, had remained elusive even through special, dedicated channels like Amazon’s marketplace and ABE books.

“The Italian Job” and The Thompson Gunner share a character, Meg Riddoch. I hadn’t been able to read Meg’s story until I started coding The Thompson Gunner for publication through Exciting Press–at which point the novel took on a new name, Tumble Turns. The story and the novel might share a universe, too–on that point I’m not entirely certain, given the ways Meg’s timeline in Tumble Turns digresses and flits back and forth.

You can read about how Nick conceived both novel and story right here.

Mal’s penile implant isn’t really as central to the story as his relationship with Meg, and the connection they build as he drives her around Australia, possibly at the tail end of her Tumble Turns media tour. Or maybe a different tour altogether. But I think it’s one of the first stories I ever read that used the verb “detumesce,” and for that alone it’s worth reading.

So do check it out. And wonderfully, Nick and Nick’s agent and I have arranged it that “The Italian Job” is one of five stories available globally, without restrictions with regard to territory. So no matter where you are, be it Canada, Australia, America, or Italy, if you have access to the Kindle platform, you can read the story. We think that’s pretty great.

It’s a way to help readers find new books.

Today, in keeping with celebrating National Poetry Month, The Inevitable Decay of Francis “Fitz-Pack” Fitzgerald is free, and will remain so for the week, but given that Exciting Press has more than 25 titles–at least 23 of which will be enrolled in free promotions over the next several months, and hopefully indefinitely, as well–it’s not really news that there’s a free title. Our hope is there will always be one, from here on out.

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Beginning today, every day, some title from Exciting Press will be free.

We’re doing it with a schedule. For each title, Amazon allows us 5 days out of 90 to for giving away. With the right amount of titles and some advance planning, we can manage it every day.

So we are. But why, you ask?

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As promised, ReGeneration & other poems is free today to kick off celebrating National Poetry Month. Every weekday in April, Exciting Press will have free, four-poem micro-collection available; next week, we’ll see The Inevitable Decay of Francis “Fitz-Pack” Fitzgerald & other poems.

But that’s not all. It’s not even the biggest. Our very own one more thing:

Exciting Press is totally thrilled to be able to offer five stories by Nick Earls . . . worldwide!

Because he’s an international bestseller, Nick’s got several sets of people and titles and publishers to juggle. He’s worked with all the giant names in publishing. Saint Martin’s Press. Penguin. Random House. And he’s worked with them across multiple continents in myriad regions. Here’s a guy whose novel Perfect Skin became an award-winning Italian motion picture (as Solo un Padre. Distributed in Italy by Warner Brothers). We’ll be publishing Perfect Skin in May in several territories, but excluding Australia and New Zealand because the e-book market is very different there, and Nick’s got a lot of options. To date, all the work Exciting Press has done with Nick has excluded his home region.

Until now.

Now we have five short stories, one of which is live in all territories, with the others hopefully following its lead presently. All are just a dollar, and, even better: if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow them all for free through the end of September. Up first we’ve got “Headgames.”

And to celebrate this new global reach, we’re also offering “Problems With a Girl & a Unicorn” free. It appears it’s going to take a few hours for the availability to hit Australia and New Zealand (sorry to all Nick’s fans over there. We appreciate your patience and apologize for the delay. Write us if you have any problems and we’ll make it up to you).

We hope you enjoy these.

Back in February, using a free promotion through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select Program, my novel The Prodigal Hour attracted more than 8,000 downloads in a mere three and a half days. Enough to steadily climb Amazon’s rankings until it was the number one free science fiction novel on the site. And in the top five action & adventure novels. (You can get it, or any other title from Exciting Press, right here.)

Now, this was when it was free, but even after the $4.99 price tag returned, it stayed in the lists. Not as high, of course, but it sank rather slowly out of them. Moreover, its current ranking on Amazon is a couple hundred thousand higher than it used to be. More people have bought and borrowed it in the past month and a half than ever. The numbers aren’t astronomical, but they’re growing.

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As many readers probably already know, April is National Poetry Month. Wikipedia notes:

National Poetry Month was inspired by the success of Black History Month, held each February, and Women’s History Month, held in March.

Neglecting for the moment that conflating poetry, as a genre, to either race or gender seems a little, well, off, celebrating poetry seems like a great idea. Perhaps due to its brevity or the fact that quality within it varies so greatly and is arguably so subjective, poetry is a difficult beast. Lots of people write it with varying degrees of success.

Like me, for example.

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“For Cynthia,” the first story from my now-no-longer-exists debut collection Entrekin, is, today, free.

God, I love Kindle Select.

I know not everyone does. Barnes & Noble and IPG and the SFWA all have all used various methods–refusing distribution and bowing out of contract negotiations and, er, removing links to Amazon titles except where those titles are available only through Amazon, apparently, respectively–to express their distinct displeasure with Amazon and Kindle, but me, I’m a reader and a writer and a publisher and, to paraphrase a former colleague copywriting for one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history, I’m loving Amazon and Kindle Select.

But let’s focus on “For Cynthia” for the moment. When I was younger I always liked to read authors’ commentaries on their short stories, accounts of their geneses and executions. So here’s a bit about “For Cynthia.”

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On March 1st, 2007, five years ago tomorrow, I published Entrekin, a self-titled debut collection of short stories, essays, and poetry. If you’ve ever been interested but put off picking up a copy, now’s the time to do so, as it’s your very final chance. I said that once, back when I pulled it from Lulu, but then Kindle made it more viable. And now, Kindle’s made a lot of other things more viable, too, which is why I’m pulling it from there, as well, finally. As of a few hours from now, Entrekin will no longer exist.

The stories and words, however, will. In new form.

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On Monday, the University of Pittsburgh announced that its upcoming Honors Convocation on February 24th will launch its celebration of the 225th anniversary of the University’s founding.

As part of this celebration, Pitt created a website celebrating the breadth and diversity of its history, from its founding in 1787–the same year as the US Constitution–through to the present. Pitt’s history is fascinating. I’d tell you more about it, but that’s why the site’s there. For people to learn about Pitt, and discover its rich history.

Plus, I helped write the stories there. So I could tell you about it, or I could just point you to the stories I already helped write, and, really, the latter is far more interesting.

Contributing to the project has been a terrific experience, and I’m really proud to have been a part of it. I’m also thrilled to be able to talk a little more about it, now that it’s announced and launched and live.

What’s also been cool about this project, personally, is that I just moved to Pittsburgh. Well. By “just,” I now mean a year ago this month. And it was a new city in a decent-sized string of new cities, and yet another in a long series of moves, but it’s the move that finally found me settling in to a place that feels like home. It’s exactly the sort of burgh I’d always hoped I might find, and doing the research for it has helped me learn it in the best way possible. What’s interesting is that I didn’t learn my new home by eating out and exploring–though those were part of the process–but rather mostly by gaining a bigger picture view of the university and the city in the context of history and the world.

So it’s been fascinating. On myriad levels. Hope you enjoy the stories if you check them out. Please do.

Last week, after having enrolled several books in the Kindle Select program and taken advantage of a few free promotions for essays and short stories, I decided to see how my novel, The Prodigal Hour, would fare. And fare well it did, hitting high ranks, breaking into the top-1oo Kindle Bestsellers, and so far, at least, it’s been maintaining more sales than before. You can find it here, for $4.99.

In fact, it went so well Nick Earls and I decided to do something Exciting.

I’ve been thrilled to work so closely with Nick, an internationally bestselling author, and not just on the Kindle store. Nick’s books have hit many lists in more countries. He’s had books published by Saint Martin’s in the US and Random House in Australia and several other houses and publishers besides.

Now he’s partnered with Exciting Press to bring stories, novellas, and novels to Kindle. Today marks a new publication of a story, “Cabin Baggage,” and a new option:

For the first three days of its digital existence, “Cabin Baggage,” will be free. In addition, it includes a free excerpt of Nick’s novel Monica Bloom, which in its turn, and for the next week only, includes a bonus novella, Grass Valley.

And that’s not even all.

I know! A free short story from an international bestseller! For any other publisher, that’d be enough, wouldn’t it?

Exciting Press isn’t any other publisher, is it?

Well. We’re hoping not to be.

Which is why we’re also offering Meets Girl free, also for a limited time.

Two exciting stories. One lower-than-low price.

This Valentine’s Day, make romance Exciting.

At the time of this writing, The Prodigal Hour is free on Kindle and has, in a day and a half, been downloaded more than 2000 times, and it currently ranks alongside George R.R. Martin’s latest novel atop Kindle’s list of top science fiction.

And me? I’m stunned.

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Hey, right now, my pre-/post-9/11 time-travel novel, The Prodigal Hour is free for Kindle.

I have to be honest with you: I have absolutely no idea how to feel about that.

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Self explanatory, isn’t it?

Over Christmas, I tried the free thing and saw stories and essays get downloaded more than 1200 times.

I’m interested to see what will happen with a novel.

For anyone new (as I’m hoping such a promotion will attract), The Prodigal Hour might well be the world’s only pre-/post-9/11 novel. It’s about time travel and alternate histories and trying to change the world one moment at a time.

For anyone not new who hasn’t yet picked it up, now’s the time. Hope you enjoy it.

I’ve noted several times how much I dislike the phrase “self-publishing,” even going so far as to note there’s no such thing. I’ve spoken often enough (arguably too often?) against corporations and conglomerations and the oft-neglected complexity that has come to color storytelling and writing. I’ve noted that people who call the late-twentieth century business model of publishing and distribution “traditional” are badly misusing the word. I realize, however, I’ve never really talked about what independence means to me, or how I’ve come to it, or why. I thought I would.

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Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a long article on the current state and possible future of Barnes & Noble.

It’s an interesting article with a strange, near-defeated tone. It goes out of its way not to lament the current state of affairs that is the bookselling business and the late-twentieth century distribution model of the corporate publishing industry, but it holds an undercurrent of resignation from paragraph to paragraph, as if its author isn’t quite certain whom she is trying to convince but knows she can convince herself least of all. It portrays Barnes & Noble as a compelling candidate for its own adjective: an honorable enterprise begun by one man selling used books in a great city that grew humbly until the late-1970s, when a young entrepreneur bought it and fueled growth and revenue.

It doesn’t mention the scores of independent bookstores that collapsed based on Barnes & Noble’s discount practices and corporate publishers support of them. It doesn’t mention the once-quaint shops who shuttered their windows because selling a book for list price could no longer attract foot traffic from anyone but the most dedicated of shop patrons; most readers were happy to spend the money the saved buying inexpensive hardcovers on coffee or cheap tchotchkes like bookmarks or novelty pens or sparkling journals. It doesn’t mention predators and their prey, and the collateral damage experienced by those caught between the two.

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The other day, Inside the Outside author Martin Lastrapes asked me about Kindle Select (or Kindle Direct Publishing Select, or KDP Select, depending on the day and who’s typing, it seems). I’m now several weeks committed to being a Kindle-exclusive author, and I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

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Last week, in an event specified as education-related, Apple announced new software that enables authors to more easily create and publish media-rich digital content. They’re calling the sales app iBooks 2 and the creation app iBooks Author, but they seem to be making a very marked distinction that what has generally become known as an e-book is not what Apple has in mind when it talks about iBooks.

A lot of authors—especially independent authors—and other people in the publishing industry have been writing about the agreement that comes with the software, and complaining about how restrictive and evil it is. I’ve read the agreement in question, and I think that all the discussion around it is based on simple misunderstanding.

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End of the year means time for lists. I’ve seen lots of book lists over the past few weeks, but they’ve hewed to conservative choices like the new Stephen King time-travel novel or Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I’ll be honest: I tried both before I got distracted (Kindle’s make it easy to get distracted by another book. Just a few pages that don’t grab and suddenly button-click I’m back to my home library with all those other books I wanted to read . . .).

I’ve also seen lots of discussion about the top-selling indie (or “self-published”) books of 2011. Notable: two of the top ten bestselling books at Amazon this past year were independent novels (and fine books to boot).

But I haven’t seen any lists of terrific independent novels–and by independent, I mean what people with corporations would call “self-published.” And I thought, hey, I’ve read some great independent novels this year. Why not talk about them? Of course, I probably should be less declarative and more accommodating and title this something more generic like “My Favorite Indie Reads of 2011,” but none of the other lists I’ve seen have done so, so I figure why not?

I don’t really think in lists, so I’m not going to make one, but here are some independent books I thought highly of. A caveat: through social networking, I’ve “met” a lot of the authors on this list, as we run in the same circles, but they’re not here just because I follow them on Twitter. I follow them on Twitter because they’re here.

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Lately, there’s been a price trick among independent authors using Smashwords and Amazon: if one made one’s ebook available to Smashwords’ distributors (like B&N and Kobo and Apple) free, Amazon might match that free price. It was the only way to offer a book for free at all, at least for independent authors.

This is no longer the case, and one of the reasons I went Amazon exclusive. In exchange for making my books exclusive to the Kindle platform, I also gained access to the ability to initiate promotions and could make my books free for five days out of every 90.

I did so this past weekend, over Christmas. Hoping to attract a few of all the new readers unwrapping and firing up their shiny new Kindles.

I think it worked.

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After careful consideration, I’ve removed my collection from Smashwords and enrolled all my books in Amazon’s new KDP Select program. I did it for both professional and moral reasons that disagree with most everything else people say about Amazon, so I thought I’d tell you about why, but first I wanted to mention that one benefit of doing so means that, for a very limited time (until December 27th, in fact, so just five days including today), all my short stories, essays, and collections will be available free.

Totally free. No catch. No caveat. You don’t have to be a Prime member.

You can find them all right here.

Now. Why am I going Amazon exclusive (if only for 90 days at a shot), when most people in the publishing industry are decrying the evil of the Seattle corporation–even though that’s kind of ironic, given that pretty much everyone who’s called them an evil corporation is either a corporation or deeply associated with one (or many)?

Because I don’t see them as evil. I’m a reader, first–I write because some of the books I want to read haven’t been written yet–and Amazon has done more for me as a reader than anyone else ever. It’s also done more for me as a writer than anyone save my editrix.

But let’s talk about Amazon. And evil. And corporations.

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I’ve been sitting on some news for a while, but now that some books are up and things are moving forward, I feel more comfortable making a formal announcement: I’ve officially founded Exciting Press, a new independent digital publisher, and as director have signed bestselling author Nick Earls to a major digital distribution deal.

For a lot of years, I was pursuing what’s now called a “traditional book deal.” I wanted an advance and book tours. It was always my dream.

And I mention that because this feels like my dream come true even though it sort of isn’t. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this venture, and how deeply honored and humbled I am to be working with Nick, who is both a truly accomplished author and a truly cool guy. His agent, Pippa Masson of Curtis Brown Australia, has also been terrific to work with.

So what does it mean to found a press?

A new website for one. There will be more to come on the site.

For now, being a small start-up, I’m working to focus on Nick’s work–which at this point includes more than a dozen books. Our plan is to release them over the spring and summer of 2012, but we’ve also managed to publish a few in time for the holiday.

We’re going to work to make it all easily accessible; for now, the best way to find the work is to search for “Nick Earls” in the Kindle store. But a couple of stories might get you started:

“Problems With a Girl & a Unicorn”

“The Secret Life of Veal”

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