Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: free

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.

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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Caught via Hugo-award winning and NYT bestselling author John Scalzi (and congrats on both counts there), the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Gordon Van Gelder, posts about the fate of short fiction online and asks for comments and feedback from readers regarding it.

His basic premise is the fear that if you start giving stuff away, no one will pay for it. Not just in the case of a specific author but rather in the case of publishing overall; if magazines start allowing readers to read online and for free the stories they print, no one will want to buy stories anymore. Which strikes me as quite a slippery slope of an argument, and I worry he’ll lose control of his toboggan.

I tend to understand his fears, though, I think, because really, it makes a lot of sense. I’ll note that since I started offering Entrekin as a free download, the downloads have shot way up though the sales have remained pretty steady. But it also makes sense in other ways.

I’ve been neglecting my other two blogs lately (writing and prepping for teaching tend to make me laser-focus), but had I been keeping up, I would have pointed to Tor.com, the new website of science fiction/fantasy publisher TOR books. So far, I’m quite stunned by its execution; in range and scope, I think it’s rather amazing, and exactly the sort of things publishers need to be doing more often. Free stories. Free novels, even. Forums for readers. Reading is not just about words on a page; it’s about community and culture, and in one fell swoop, Tor has realized the combination of the two. It’s damned near perfect, and I can only imagine it will get better.

When Tor.com posted Scalzi’s short story, “After the Coup”, the story managed nearly 50,000 hits in two weeks, a number that is, approximately, equal to the number of subscribers to three of the biggest science fiction/fantasy magazines combined. When Van Gelder pointed out that all those subscribers pay, whereas TOR.com readers are getting a freebie, Scalzi apparently responded he was “comparing eyeballs to eyeballs.”

Which puts it pretty well, I think. Because in neither case is either number a certain count of readers. One might hope, I guess, that a subscriber would read an entire magazine, but I don’t think I ever have; every magazine I’ve ever subscribed to, there’s usually one article each issue that’s a stinker.

In fact, Tor.com’s implementation seems like the perfect execution in an online world: a publisher gets behind an author, and gets first-look rights at what that author creates, which it can post on its website for an industry-standard fee. Readers can view it free, authors get paid, and publishers get free marketing (New! Exclusive Junot Diaz story! Only at Riverhead.com!).

Used to be that publication made sense, if solely for purposes of distribution; there was no way to get a lot of books to a lot of people without having the kind of operation only a major publisher could implement. Nowadays, though, sites like this seem to indicate that nearly 1.5 billion people in the world have Internet access, whereas something like 90% of books sell fewer than 1000 copies. Which seems to me to indicate that there’s a giant disconnect between content creation and content distribution, if only because so many Internet users read. Blogs, e-mail, news . . . it’s really just a giant database full of information and content.

I’ve read Seth Godin claim that books are really just souvenirs, and I’m not entirely sure about that one way or the other, but I do think that magazines and newspapers well could be. They are holders of information, but certainly no longer the best method of delivery of that information. I’d say I’m reasonably informed about global news, but I literally cannot remember the last time I actually even saw a newspaper, much less picked one up or read one.

Van Gelder notes:

So I started to wonder: has short fiction been devalued by the fact that so many places offer it for free online nowadays?

But when was the value of any fiction ever determined by the price people are willing to pay? All of Shakespeare’s work is public domain and available free, online, and what’s more, no one has to pay to produce or perform any of it.

What I think Van Gelder really means, though, is that we may be coming to a point where writers no longer need a short fiction marketplace (and I realize this is another slope of the slippery type, but still). In Japan last year, 5 of the 10 bestselling novels were distributed neither online nor by book but rather to readers’ cell phones. No mistake, the industry as a whole is changing markedly, and I think most professionals within it will learn to adapt to new ways of doing the business of getting good content to interested consumers, which is really basically all publishing actually is, anyway.

Personally, I’m still mainly surprised that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction still only accepts queries by traditional mail. No electronic submissions.

I mean, seriously, what’s up with that?

(though they do accept payment for sample issues through PayPal. Interesting that)

Posted to et cetera, because that’s why I started that particular venture, but worth mentioning here: nearly a year and a half after its release, Cheryl Anne Gardner at POD People reviews Entrekin:

The depth of emotion is certainly there, and there are moments of truly elegant and poetic writing.

Overall, it seems rather mixed as reviews go, somewhere between encouraging and constructively critical, with far more positive than negative. I’m still new to writing and publishing and books, and I know the general position is that one shouldn’t discuss, much less respond, to reviews, so I think I’ll refrain. Overall, while she seemed to have major aesthetic issues with my style, she still seemed to enjoy the read and ultimately rated the collection as a whole a 7 out of 10 (which puts it above average so far as POD People reviews go, if narrowly), and she specifically cites six pieces that she enjoyed.

One thing she’s brought up, both in the reviews and in some correspondence with me, is:

there is always reason to re-evaluate the work. And as we mature as writers, re-evaluation is a necessary evil.

Which is true in some ways, I think, but I wonder about in others. Now that it’s a year and a half later, I’ve considered making more explicit certain reasons for certain choices I’ve made: the cover for one (Gardner hated it, but it’s often one of the first thing reviewers or readers tell me they liked about it), as well as some of the content. And there is a point that, a year and a half later, and now with a Master’s degree under my belt, I think I’ve gained a little more objectivity about my writing–I’m certainly better at it, I know that, which is nice considering all the time, effort, energy, and money I invested in the past few years alone. I’d have to reread the afterword to see if there’s anything new I might say about the work, but I’ve certainly learned a lot through the book that I obviously couldn’t before I put it out there.

One specific choice I’ll note now is that, while I might re-evaluate the work, I won’t, as Cheryl suggests I might, revisit it; Entrekin is not perfect, certainly (there are a few typos, for one), but then again, what is? In the past year, however, I’ve come to look at it as a sort of chronicle of a place I was and experiences I had, nearly a record of sorts, and as such, I’ve come to see it for what it is; a book that closes a period of my life. If I revisit any of the themes that appear in it (I think I probably do, in The Prodigal Hour), I will do so in other stories (and there’s a huge change right there: when I first published my collection, my novel was tentatively titled A Different Tomorrow).

As for talking about a lot of it and discussing the review, I’m not certain. Hemingway I think said: “Fuck ’em all; let ’em think you were born knowing how to write.” Then again, one of the reasons I’ve always said I blog is to show the nuts and bolts of things in ways that haven’t been seen before.

What do you think?

Anyway, this was just mainly to note the review and allowed me to note some things I’d wanted to. Like I said, the review’s a bit mixed, but why take someone else’s word for it, anyway? You can still download it as a free digital file readable not just on any computer but even on iPhones and certain other .pdf capable smart phones, so why not make up your own mind about it?

And if you like it, tell a friend. Heck, if you like it, buy a copy for one.

Will Shetterly, whom I’ve mentioned before, wrote a novel called Dogland, semi-autobiographical in nature, about growing up at an amusement park. He’s posted the first chapter of a memoir, A Boy in Dogland, here.

You should check it out. It’s good.

For a long enough while that I can no longer recall when it began, I’ve been reading lamentations about the current health of the short story, or, more accurately, the complete lack thereof. Seems a lot of people think it’s dying or already has done, that it’s gasping its final breaths and all that’s left is the death rattle. For example, this post on After the MFA (which further links back to a post on Galley Cat), about anonymous e-mailers who wrote to the latter site “asserting that the short story is, in fact, six feet under in their literary world. “Valid career” go the anonymous cries, as in you can’t have one writing short stories.”

I yet wonder about ‘valid careers’. Since when has writing ever been a valid career choice? It’s difficult, long, time-consuming, and quite possibly the least valued of the various media; people seem to think very little of dropping a hundred bucks on a single evening at the cinema (parking, ticket, popcorn, soda, etc.), but few of them seem interested in dropping $30 on a hardcover novel. Heck, even I rarely do (I buy from Amazon marketplace. You’re awesome, Amazon marketplace). Books very rarely sell more than a few thousand copies (with obvious notable exceptions, so put your hands down Messrs. Brown and King. You too, Jo Rowling); most sell substantially less. 15,000 or so is usually considered pretty successful. Meanwhile, the albums that top the Billboard charts often move more than 200 times that in a week.

And then AMFA offers a terrific suggestion for the reason: “Maybe it’s because all of our stories suck?”

Boyhow.

He asks readers when was the last time they read a story that blew their mind. I’m sure some people, like my colleague, the illustrious Mr. John Fox over at BookFox, could probably cite one off the top of his head, but I’m also certain most people wouldn’t be able to. Heck, I know I couldn’t. If I had to think of really recently, I’d probably re-peruse Gaiman’s Fragile Things. Beyond that? Besides Ray Chandler or Stephen King, I draw a blank.

This isn’t to say I haven’t skimmed issues of The New Yorker recently. In fact, one of the assignments in one of my classes with Shelly Lowenkopf required us to edit one of the stories contained therein; I chose one by a woman named Tessa Hadley, “Married Love”, and covered it with marks. I see on searching her name that she’s had three stories published in the magazine since Feb. 2007, and I say, “Really, New Yorker? Really?”

But this is the current way of the short story. This is the sort of fiction/voice students in MFA programs (and their faculties, too, for that matter) strive for. It’s tedious and homogenous at best, and just plain crap at worst.

It’s sad, because short stories are fun. Short stories can provide a venue for the kind of experiment one can’t sustain for the length of a novel. Two of the stories in my collection concern C. Auguste Dupin investigating the death of Edgar Allan Poe; I don’t think such a conceit could sustain a novel’s length (it’s arguably too ‘gimmicky’. Two novels whose titles I can’t recall tried it, in fact, albeit, from the reviews I read, unsuccessfully). Some of the stories were inspired from songs; certainly not a conceit for a novel.

(one reason I chose USC’s Master’s program was that its teachers were known for their novels, and not their short stories)

One other thing I think works against short stories is the way they’re published, i.e., pretty rarely and in obscure places. Because, seriously, who reads literary magazines except writers who are hoping to publish in them, and what sort of market is that? It’s not so much that the form is dead, perhaps more that its medium has changed; when most magazines’ content can be found online anyway, what’s the point of the newsstand? Why buy the newspaper when The New York Times is online, for free. And this isn’t an argument for buying the cow; this is a real question in terms of market and audience. As the aforementioned Mr. Lowenkopf noted in this blog post, “many individuals who like to think of themselves as writers have the singular goal of publication,” which is a bit backwards because publication is one of the slightest aspects of writing, and in the age of the Internet and POD, what’s ‘publication,’ anyway? Who’s the arbitrary arbiter of quality that decided Miranda July’s collection was worth so much attention last year (and whose mind did it blow, really)?

Last month’s issue of Wired featured a story on free (it’s free, here, in fact, which is fun). Short stories are, traditionally, a basically free medium; they have historically been published in magazines, so it’s almost bonus content. $5 pays for the whole magazine, of which the story is merely one feature.

Short stories won’t die, because writers will always write them, but I think the trend will be toward freedom.

When that comes to fruition, however, one thing to keep in mind: we as readers should demand awesome and never again settle for any damned less.

Was it a year ago today I clicked the buttons to launch my own publishing venture? If it wasn’t, it was pretty close, I think. I know it was at the start of March, because I remember thinking about its being close to my parents’ wedding anniversary.

Now, like a birthday present, a website called Lulu Book Reviews has put up an extraordinarily positive review of it. LBR is a nascent venture, just initiated last week or so, and its review of Entrekin is only its second, but I see good things ahead for the site, and I don’t just say that because the review was so overwhelmingly good.

As reviews and kind words go, Entrekin had a rather good year. Back in June, the PODler had great things to say about it, and I already mentioned that, in July, one wonderful reader (thanks again to Deborah) downloaded it to her iPhone to read it and shared the experience with me. Not long thereafter, I took a long-ish hiatus from blogging, and during that time, some other nice things happened. The first was my entering Entrekin into the Writer’s Digest self-published book of the year contest. During the summer, I got a note, via MySpace, from one of the judges, who told me how much he’d liked my book and that it had made it to the second round of judging.

That note made me smile, and not just for the kind words; there’s a bit in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caufield says something along the lines that the best authors make you feel like their friends, make you want to phone them up and tell them how much you liked their book and maybe chat a bit. That note made me feel somewhat like that.

Ultimately, Entrekin made it no further in the judging. I’d had doubts it would, truthfully, but mainly because of the category selection; there was none for a collection, so I had to enter it into the “mainstream/literary fiction,” which only really makes up probably less than half the book. There’s still poetry, and there are still five essays, one of which, concerning September 11th, is, I think, one of the more powerful pieces in the book. It was certainly the most powerful to write.

But Entrekin did get 4s (out of 5) straight across the board (plot, grammar, character development, cover design), and whoever offered commentary liked that it’s all over the place, but that one gets the sense that I write because I love to do so (and I do), calling the notes at the end “genuine and heartfelt,” then, “This was a remarkably refreshing read, and its earnestness is catching.”

Which is just lovely, yes.

The judge also commented on a possible improvement, calling it “only … one small thing,” and then mentioned my self-titling the collection. He (or she) noted that doing so “might lead many cynics to think that Will Entrekin is egocentric. Just a thought. Again, I don’t think so particularly, but there are some who might.”

This comment made me chuckle, though I don’t yet know how to react beyond that yet. It’s not a criticism with which I’m unfamiliar, but still I don’t know how to respond; the more I note I’m, in fact, not, the more defensive I appear. Totally no-win situation. Lately I’ve just taken to not responding, except in extraordinarily rare cases; the last time I engaged anyone, in fact, I did so to stick up, so to speak, for someone else. That that someone else hadn’t responded, though, might well have been the clearest indication that they didn’t feel response was necessary. When I was younger, my parents taught me to always stick up for myself; part of it, I think, is that I’m still often learning how.

This bears up to the last review of any of my writing before LBR’s. I very deliberately took a step back to more fully realize what I wanted to do and how I might, during which time a blog called POD People reviewed “How the World Will End.” The reviewer, Emily Veinglory, opened by noting she’d heard quite a lot about me, though she doesn’t mention whether what she’s heard was good or bad, then that “It seems he can write, but it really isn’t clear what he writes about.” So she decided to give a shot to one of the free stories available over at my Lulu page, and I’m positively thrilled she decided to find out for herself. She chose “How the World Will End,” which, coincidentally, was the very first download offered, just a few days before the book became available, noting that she thought it was clear I knew how to put words together, but that the story, which started concrete, became “abstract,” noting that she “didn’t really get it.”

Which is, of course, fair enough. “How the World Will End” is a flash piece based on a song, written as a sort of translation/adaptation; I listened to the song and tried to extrapolate what it would be had it been a short story. It’s certainly experimental, but as for “abstract,” I’m not certain. Veinglory says one might call her “overly literal,” but then, I think the story is overly literal; I’m not a symbolic sort of writer, mostly, and when “HtWWE” mentions a missile, I meant a missile; when it mentions penguins, I meant penguins; and when it meant mountains and rivers, I meant mountains and rivers.

What I think is more important than the question of concrete v. abstract is that, ultimately, Veinglory notes she’s “left certain that Will Entrekin knows how to write but I am not sure that I would be interested in anything he chose to write about,” which is a shame and indicates that “HtWWE” fails, for her, on a number of levels: as a story, but also as a taste of the collection itself and as an enticement to give others a try. Veinglory ultimately gives the story a 5.5 star rating out of 10, which I actually consider extraordinarily charitable considering she didn’t seem to much like it; I obviously do like the story (I wouldn’t have included it if I hadn’t), and though I’m not certain how to rate such things (on a scale of swimming to banana, I’d give it a purple), I’m also not certain I’d have given it much higher. I think it did what I wanted it to, ultimately, and works for what it is; whether that’s good or not I leave to the reader to decide–in Veinglory’s case, then, not so much.

But ultimately that’s the question of the book, and what I’ve learned from this year. Is Entrekin a good, or great, book? To that I answer that I like it and am proud of it, and more than that, I cannot say. Does it do what I wanted it to? That I can’t answer, either, because I didn’t necessarily hope for it to do anything; all I wanted was to learn from this experience, and I have. I’ve learned that what counts is to put out something you stand behind, and believe in, no matter the circumstances, and that you acknowledge it for what it is. I’ve learned that marketing and promotion are difficult. I’ve learned that I don’t believe in self-promotion, because I’m not promoting my self; I’m promoting my book and doing so on my own. And I’ve learned that the best thing in the world one can achieve is belief in yourself and your work, but mostly I’ve learned that I certainly couldn’t have done any of this without you. I couldn’t have done it without the kind words and gracious notes. I couldn’t have done it without the people who took pictures of themselves reading Entrekin. I couldn’t have done it without your support, and for that I am both deeply humbled and extraordinarily grateful; no amount of thanks feels like it could be enough.

I’ve learned that some people like it, and others don’t. Mostly, I just hope people decide for themselves.

To that end, given that it’s the year anniversary, and given that my favorite author’s novel is available for free download for the month, I decided to follow suit. For the entire month of March, Entrekin, in its entirety, will be available as a free download at Lulu.com.

I hope you give it a shot if you haven’t already, and I hope you like it if you do.

I’ve read a bit about Marie Philips’ Gods Behaving Badly (though not the book itself, I’ll admit). The premise, to quote its Amazon.com page, is:

the Greek gods and goddesses living in a tumbledown house in modern-day London and facing a very serious problem: their powers are waning, and immortality does not seem guaranteed. In between looking for work and keeping house, the ancient family is still up to its oldest pursuit: crossing and double-crossing each other. Apollo, who has been cosmically bored for centuries, has been appearing as a television psychic in a bid for stardom. His aunt Aphrodite, a phone-sex worker, sabotages him by having her son Eros shoot him with an arrow of love, making him fall for a very ordinary mortal-a cleaning woman named Alice, who happens to be in love with Neil, another nice, retiring mortal. When Artemis-the goddess of the moon, chastity and the hunt, who has been working as a dog walker-hires Alice to tidy up, the household is set to combust, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

And while this sounds intriguing, as such things go, the reason I haven’t already picked up the novel is that, reading that, I feel like I read the book back in 2001, when Neil Gaiman wrote it and called it American Gods.

American Gods is not my favorite Neil Gaiman novel (that’s Anansi Boys), nor do I think it’s his best (actually, I think that’s Anansi Boys, as well), but it’s certainly damned good enough to have won a whole mess of awards and slake quite well my thirst for novels about no-longer-employed gods. It’s long and meandering (in a very good way), with an extraordinarily likable protagonist matched up against extraordinarily likable antagonists.

I bring this up because, for the month of March, HarperCollins is basically giving the book away. Well. Close to, at any rate.

So here’s my part: I’m going to embed their code here, which you can click to follow and read the novel in its entirety.

If you like it, you can pick it up here.

And I think you will. Like it, I mean. It’s a great book.


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