Horror, Weird Fiction, or Dark Fantasy?

I will be launching a new series, probably in the new year. I have the first three books written and am in the editorial process.

Ever since I conceived of the series, I’ve been scratching my head as to what to label it. My inspiration came from The X-Files, Stranger Things, Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files series, and HP Lovecraft (both his Cthulhu Mythos and non-Mythos stories). The series draws on the quasi-scientific, supernatural, and paranormal. There be monsters here! As well as psychological elements of fear and terror.

So what exactly am I writing? Is it horror fiction? Or weird fiction? Or dark fantasy? Maybe it’s dark speculative fiction. Or perhaps it’s simply paranormal fiction.

For the series title I chose the word “paranormal”. Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations. Mostly because “paranormal” anything is hot right now. But as noted above, like The X-Files, Pierce Mostyn investigates the quasi-scientific, the pseudo-scientific, as well as the supernatural and paranormal. Anything that is weird and might be a threat to the good people of the United States of America. See my dilemma?

My old Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition defines horror as “the strong feeling caused by something frightful or shocking; shuddering fear and disgust; terror and repugnance.” Therefore, a horror story is one that would induce fear, terror, disgust, repugnance, or shock.

Weird, on the other hand, is “suggestive of ghosts, evil spirits, or other supernatural things; unearthly, mysterious, eerie, etc.” The dictionary goes on to say “weird applies to that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.” Weird fiction, then, would be fiction that induces a more general feeling of fear or uneasiness. A story that leaves one with an unidentifiable feeling of dread. Although one reviewer on Amazon was of the opinion that weird fiction puts the protagonist into a situation where no choice he or she can make is a good choice. If that is the case, then to my mind weird fiction sidles very close to horror.

Dark means “hidden; secret; not easily understood; obscure; evil; sinister.” So dark fantasy would be fantasy that explores the hidden, secret, evil, or the sinister. And could easily leave the reader with a feeling of dread. Identifiable or not.

The Pierce Mostyn series might induce fear in some, and certainly deals with those things that are hidden, secret, evil, or sinister. The series also explores that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.

I suppose it all comes down to what’s my primary intent with the stories. My guess is I’m probably going more for the weird impact than anything else. But then again, each story might be different. Certainly that was the case with The X-Files, or Night Gallery before that, and The Twilight Zone before that.

Any suggestions will be very much appreciated. Please leave them in the comments.

My Interview

On a separate note, my interview with fellow author Andy Graham went live on Thursday, September 7. You can find it at One Book Interviews. The interview was fun and challenging. Trying to find just one book for each of Andy’s questions. Just one. Difficult, a bit of soul searching, and yet fun, because I got to revisit lots of great books in my mind. And put a few on the reread list!

Please, do check out the interview. And while you’re there, take a look around Andy’s site.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

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The Mars-Venus Thing, Part 1

                            Mars vs Venus

 

Quite honestly, I don’t know if women are from Venus and men, Mars. What I do know is that men and women look at the world differently. We can argue why this is until and even after the car is in the garage. The fact remains, the sexes see life from different perspectives. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

As a reader, as a male reader, I find I tend to gravitate towards certain types of books. And I am not just referring to genres here. I’m talking about characteristics. Such things as pacing, the amount of action, humor, violence, and sex.

A few months ago I referenced an article by Kate Summers, “Adult Reading Habits And Preferences In Relation To Gender Differences”. The article is informative and I think for the most part right on.

So I thought I’d revisit Ms Summer’s article and answer the questions she gave her survey participants. I dropped one of her questions and replaced it with one of my own. Here are the results (my answers are italicized):

1. How many books do you read in a year?

About two dozen or more.

2. Do you generally prefer fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction.

3. What nonfiction topics interest you?

Airships, history, philosophy, cooking, ships.

4. Do you have any favorite genres you like to read?

Mysteries, science fiction, adventure, sea stories.

5. Do you read series books or do you prefer standalone books?

Series.

6. What are a few of your favorite books?

An Artist Of The Floating World, The Remains Of The Day, Seneca’s Letters, Earth Abides, Day Of The Triffids, On The Beach, Wingman.

7. Do you have any favorite magazines?

No.

8. Who are a few of your favorite authors?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Daniel Pinkwater, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, H. Rider Haggard.

9. Do you typically prefer male authors or female authors?

Male authors.

10. Do you typically read books that feature male protagonists or female protagonists?

Male.

11. Were you encouraged to read when growing up?

Yes.

12. How do you choose books to read?

Subject, word of mouth, reviews.

13. Do you belong to a bookclub?

No.

14. Do you discuss books with your friends?

Not usually.

15. Are you an active member of any book related social networking sites?

No.

16. Do you own an ereader?

Yes.

17. In what format do you prefer to read, print or digital?

Doesn’t matter.

18. What kind of reading do you do online?

Nonfiction and research.

19. Do you become interested in reading a particular book if it is adapted into a movie or a TV series?

Not especially.

What I discovered is that my answers more or less fit in with those of fiction reading men. Good to know I’m normal, at least as far as reading is concerned.

In Kate Summers’s survey, women overwhelmingly preferred fiction to nonfiction. This may account for the perception amongst males that fiction reading is for “sissies”. And most males would rather die than be accused of being a sissy. Which may also account for men publicly declaring a preference for nonfiction.

I grew up in a family where reading was encouraged and my father read fiction. Consequently, fiction has always been part of my life and was nothing I was ashamed of. And I’m very glad for that.

Summers’s survey revealed women tend to be eclectic readers, having no preference overall for male or female protagonists or authors. On the other hand, a strong majority of men prefer male authors and male protagonists. This preference may be due to males more than females needing to identify with the characters. This was clearly seen in a survey of 11th grade boys and girls, where 43% of the boys compared to 35% of the girls cited needed to identify with the characters in a book.

Reading habits of men and women are important to writers — if the writer desires to write to a target audience.

Males tend to prefer action and humor. I discovered I’m a bit of an oddball in this regard as I don’t care for unrelenting and fast-paced action. I like action, but keep it to a few action scenes. I prefer plenty of non-action or little action and a whole lot of character development. Slowburn fiction is more my speed.

Females, on the other hand, tend to like romance and realistic fiction dealing with relationships.

As a writer, I find these preferences very interesting. It seems men tend to prefer plot-driven stories, with women preferring character-driven stories. Maybe that’s why men, for example, prefer thrillers (lots of action), whereas women prefer mysteries (especially cozies) where relationships and the characters’s personalities play a much larger role.

Every individual is, of course, unique. But generally speaking, it seems men and women form two different reader groups. What I see going on today amongst writers, both indie and traditionally published, is a catering to women readers at the expense of men. And this is taking place among both men and women writers.

The key to success, so we writers are told, no matter the genre or target audience (such as YA), is to have a kick-ass heroine. I think the underlying reason for this is the notion that in general men don’t read fiction. Which is, of course, not true. Men do read fiction. But men tend not to be social about their reading habits and therefore their reading choices generally don’t show up in surveys.

But we’ll save this part for next week, where we will examine the bias against men.

And if you are a man reading this post, please consider answering the questionnaire above that I took and put your answers in the comments.

Until next next time, happy reading!

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What’s in a Cover?

Of late, I’ve had several of my fellow writers tell me my book covers don’t reflect the genre, or they need a bit of work, or that they could be better — more like the top selling indies in the genre.

All of that may be true and may be part of the reason I’m not rolling in the dough after 3 years of being an independent author-publisher.

So I’ve been having myself a major think. Significantly enough, the above comments came on the heels of my having listened to the two modules in Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula 101 course on covers and blurb writing.

Mark Dawson’s cover designer and artist, Stuart Bache, in the module on covers noted there are two different approaches to book covers: genre similar and genre standout. If you take a look on Amazon or even a walk through a bookstore, you’ll quickly see what is most popular. Genre similar. Why?

Because people are in a hurry, as the thinking goes, and what a genre similar cover does is tell the potential reader this is a sci-fi novel or a romance or a mystery or a thriller. Then other factors begin to influence. Title. Author name. Blurb.

However, if I’m specifically looking for a science fiction novel, a genre similar cover does nothing for me because I already know I’m looking for science fiction. I’m standing in the science fiction section of the bookstore. Or I searched for science fiction on Amazon. I think that is something that’s important to keep in mind.

Bryan Cohen, who presented the module on blurb writing, said that Mark Dawson’s own survey of his readers, asking what actually got them to buy the book, said it was the blurb — by a 5 to 1 margin — over the cover. Why? Because Dawson’s covers are all genre similar. There is nothing to distinguish his covers from any other author’s in the genre.

As a reader, not a writer, but as a reader, what do I look for when I’m looking to buy a book? Me. Not some survey, or industry standard. Me. What do I look for? After all, I’m the reader I know best.

I think that is an important question to ask. So I expanded my think to include the actions I went through to buy my last few books. And what I came up with for me is:

Unless the cover is truly a standout cover, it’s the title that draws my attention. Or the author’s name. When looking at the search results.

I haven’t been in a brick and mortar bookstore in quite awhile, so I limited myself to how I go about looking for a book on Amazon. This is the procedure I came up with for how I, a 64-year old guy, looks for a book to buy. Keep in mind younger men may do things differently, as most likely do women.

  1. I select the Kindle store.
  2. I key in the genre or sub-genre I want to read.
  3. I scan the search results.
  4. I pick a book.
  5. I read the blurb.
  6. I take a look at the reviews.
  7. If I’m still interested, I “Look Inside”.
  8. If still interested, I buy the book.

Those are the steps. Now let’s look at an example.

At step 2, I keyed in “private investigator mystery series”.

The results I got — minus cozies that got in there and box sets and sponsored ads — were the following in order on the first page:

The Mystery of the Secret Parents – Dan Taylor

 

 

 

Easy Prey – Dan Ames

 

 

 

Murder with Sarcastic Intent – Dan Ames

 

 

 

The Observer – T. Patrick Phelps

 

 

 

The Kill List – David Archer

 

 

 

Haggard Hawk – Douglas Watkinson

 

 

 

Tackling Death – Bud Craig

 

 

 

Double Fake, Double Murder – Dallas Gorham

 

 

 

Hidden Agenda – David Archer

 

 

 

After scanning the list, I ruled out Murder with Sarcastic Intent because the cover hurts my eyes, it’s that garish to me.

From the thumbnails, you can see genre similar prevails. What caught my eye was the first book: The Mystery of the Secret Parents. The cover is somewhat standout, the colors catching my eye. It doesn’t convey genre very well, but then I already know it’s a mystery because that is what I searched for. The title is a good mystery title. Not thrillerish. Just a good old-fashioned mystery.

So I clicked on the book and read the blurb, which was okay. So I looked at the reviews. There were some that threw up red flags for me, but I decided to “Look Inside”. Once I did, I said, Nope. Not for me. Back to step 3.

The only other book on the page of search results that caught my eye was Dallas Gorham’s Double Fake, Double Murder. The cover was a traditional murder mystery cover, which is what I like. The title conveyed the same idea, so I took a closer look.

The blurb didn’t particularly grab me. Too much selling in it. The reviews, though, were pretty good, so I took a “Look Inside”. Sad to say, I wasn’t impressed, and passed on the book.

Analyzing my process, I came to the conclusion that for me — genre similar covers without an eye-catching title — don’t pull me in from the search page. Notice, I passed on Dan Ames’s book with the genre similar cover and lackluster title. Which was the second book on the list.

What caught my eye, were the two covers that were somewhat different. With the title being the clincher.

If a standout cover and a snappy title are what catch my attention on the Amazon search page — where I’m already  looking for a genre specific book — then why would I want to put boring genre similar covers on the books I write? I think the answer is obvious: I don’t.

To my mind where all of this genre appropriate cover advice goes south is that I’m not looking at a mix of genres and trying to find the genre I like. Which the cover would identify for me. I’ve already passed by that step by searching specifically for the genre I want to read. No one seems to have grasped that.

Now the danger in having too standout of a cover, is it can turn people off. As did Ames’s Murder with Sarcastic Intent.

Circling back around, as I’ve noted in previous posts, there is a lot of group think that goes on with people. There is a lot of thinking invading self-publishing that comes from traditional publishing. Which may be appropriate for the Big Corporate types, but not for us indies.

Even when I regularly visited bookstores and looked at books on a self, I went to the genres I wanted to read. And I passed by all the genre similar covers, unless they had a standout title, or a familiar author name, and picked up the book with the standout cover.

So are my covers hurting my sales? It’s possible. Or is some other factor at play here? Such as my doing virtually no advertising?

I’m inclined to think the virtually no advertising may be the actual culprit here, not the covers.

Of course the only way to know for sure is to do a test. Slap a few genre similar covers on my books, do nothing else, and see if I get better sales results. That test I’m considering. It might prove to be very interesting.

As always, your comments are very much welcome. If you’re inclined, take a look at my Amazon page and see if you think my covers are a problem. If you think they are, let me know. I genuinely want to know. But do look at them as I did above, in a long list of books in the same genre. Just so we keep things the same.

Until next time, happy reading!

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The Writer’s Magic Marketing Machine

We writers are constantly looking for the magic formula for success. We want to quit our day jobs and live off of the bucks flowing from our pens or keyboards. The success of J K Rowling, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy, and others, fuels our imagination and dreams.

But what is the key to success? What is that magic formula? Is it social media? Or Facebook ads? Or maybe Amazon ads? Perhaps it’s paid reviews, such as Kirkus.

Or maybe indie success story Hugh Howey is right: there is no magic formula and success is just dumb luck. Keep writing and hopefully you’ll sell something.

I jumped into the self-publishing pond in 2014. Mostly because I’d read too many horror stories of writers getting screwed by publishers and agents. But also because being 64 I don’t have time to wait around for someone else to decide if I’m good enough or not. Let the public decide.

So in November 2014 I published 4 books and 2 more in December and waited for the money to roll in. It didn’t. It dribbled in and the dribble gradually turned into the occasional drip.

I looked for the magic formula to jumpstart sales. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered magic doesn’t exist.

However, amongst all the noise pretending to be magic, the successful indie authors continued to be of one accord. To have any hope for success, writers need to:

  • write well
  • write lots, preferably in series
  • publish often

What wasn’t said was how to put those things into a coherent plan and they didn’t mention anything about a mailing list. In the early days, I don’t think a mailing list was necessary. Today it is. The independent author/publisher is basically no different than a mail order company. And they succeed or fail on their mailing list. I spent $700 to learn that tidbit. Now I just saved you some money.

Nevertheless, how to do what the successful writers did remained a mystery.

About a month ago, I discovered author Patty Jansen’s key to success. It is the best formula I’ve found in the couple of years I’ve spent looking for the magic marketing machine. Her post — The Three-Year, No-Bestseller Plan To A Sustainable Income From Self-Publishing — is a must read for any writer who wants to make a living from writing.

There is no magic wand, my writer friends. There is only hard work and maybe, possibly, hopefully success. What I found encouraging — supremely encouraging — in Patty’s post was she has never had a bestseller. Yet, she makes 3K-5K/month (2016) and noted that her income has doubled every year. I have lived comfortably on 60K/year.

I don’t want to rehash her post here because it’s best if you read if for yourself and contemplate on it. However, I do want to emphasize a few points. Patty wrote that in order to succeed writers need to

  • write well
  • write lots
  • write in series
  • publish often
  • build a mailing list

It goes without saying writers need to write well, and the only way to learn how to write is by writing. Not rewriting, not editing, but writing. Edgar Rice Burroughs (the guy who created Tarzan) supposedly said if you write one story you have an almost 100% chance of failure and if you write 100 stories you have an almost 100% chance of having at least one success.

An indie writer needs to write lots. We are the 21st century’s version of the pulp fiction writers of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Those writers had to write lots if they wanted to pay the rent and put food on their table. They didn’t have time for oodles of rewrites and edits. Robert Heinlein noted that one should never edit unless the editor makes you. Writers write.

Indie authors need to write in series. Doing so generates traction and keeps one’s name in front of the reader. As does publishing often.

And we need to build a mailing list. After all, what would we do if Amazon suddenly changed the rules and was no longer indie friendly? Most of us would be in a world of hurt. But not so much if we had a mailing list of devoted fans.

Patty’s post gives more detail and you, my writer friends, need to read it and embrace it.

In fact, her post completely revolutionized my thinking. Suddenly I had a workable game plan to follow. Where I had been wandering in the wilderness, I now had a GPS with destination keyed in. Hopefully, by 2020 I’ll be making some bucks from my writing.

I’m lucky. Being retired I have a lot of time in which to write and work on marketing. Being retired also means I have an income coming in that I don’t have to work to get. Which means I can get by very nicely with 20K or 30K from my writing. It would make a super supplement. I won’t turn down more by any means. After all, my dream car is a Rolls Royce.

Read Patty’s post and follow it. Save yourself some time and a pile of money. It’s a super simple solution to the question ‘What do I need to do to make a living from my writing.’

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Do Men Read Fiction?

Do men read fiction? This is a question traditional publishers have asked and decided in the negative. No. Men do not read fiction. The conclusion is based on numerous surveys that have been conducted concerning adult reading.

Now I find this to be a rather disturbing conclusion, because I’m a man and I read fiction. As of today, I’ve read 19 novels and 11 short stories this year. In fact, I just finished a novel yesterday. I also write novels. So how on earth did traditional publishers arrive at such a bizarre conclusion? Am I an odd ball? Or are traditional publishers mistaken?

Traditional publishing tends to be dominated by women and that may influence what ends up getting published. (cf, Where The Boys Are Not.) After all women do tend to read differently than men. And if women are functioning as agents and editors then their interests can’t but help have some influence as to what gets represented and what eventually gets published.

Porter Anderson, writing on Jane Friedman’s blog, disputes the notion that men don’t read fiction. And indie author Mark Dawson has statistical evidence that his John Milton thrillers are read about equally by men and women.

Nevertheless, there is a deluge of novels with strong female leads coming out of traditional publishing and indie publishing. Both men and women authors are cranking out novels where the protagonist is a strong woman. Myself included. I can’t help but think that this deluge is due to the notion that men don’t read fiction.

As a reader, a male reader, I don’t mind reading books where there is a strong female lead. One of my favorite characters is Robert E Howard’s Dark Agnes. Better known as Sword Woman. But quite honestly, I’m getting tired of reading books that only feature a strong female lead. After all, I am a guy and I’d like a little guy fantasy every now and then.

So I ask myself, why? Why all the strong female leads even from the pens of male authors? It’s not that I don’t like women, because I do. So what is the reason?

I think the reason, in part, is because there is a very strong trend, which has been going on for years, to have the main character — whether male or female — to be very touchy-feely. Perhaps this trend is due to a female dominated publishing industry. Because women tend to like their protagonists to be touchy-feely.

Lee Child made note of this in his introduction to a new addition of his first Jack reacher novel. What had started out to be a good thing, pretty soon became a bad thing because so many people were copying it and not doing it so well. In other words it was no longer innovative. The sensitive and troubled main character had become hack. A stock character. So Child made Jack Reacher not quite the opposite. Reacher is something of a man’s man and yet there is enough sensitivity to him that a woman reader could find him attractive.

I think the other reason, in part, is the perception that men don’t read fiction. If men don’t read fiction then why have a male lead in the first place? However this perception may not be true. The popularity of Jack Reacher and Mark Dawson’s John Milton would seem to indicate that both men and women like a male protagonist and one who is something of a man’s man.

In doing a bit of online research concerning the question, I ran across a wonderful article which indicates men do read fiction. However, they’re reading habits tend to be less flexible than those of women. The article is by Kate Summers and is on the Reference and User Services Association website.

In addition to being less flexible readers than women, men tend to be far less social concerning their reading habits. In other words, men tend not to talk about what they read. Something Anderson alludes to in his post which I referenced above. Consequently, surveys indicating men are less likely to buy and read fiction may be skewed in favor of women simply because men don’t answer them! Women are much more likely than men to be in bookclubs, tweet what they’re reading, or share book recommendations on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google Plus. All of which gives the impression men don’t read fiction.

Additionally, young men may not be as attracted to a touchy-feely main character as are young women. And if young men get the impression that novels are only for “girls and sissies”, then we are going to lose male readers of fiction. Which argues for the need to have — especially in YA books — strong male protagonists, written by male authors. Because young men tend to read male authors over female authors. Think about comic books here. Comic book heroes by and large are not touchy-feely and boys love comic books.

As a writer, this is an important question to me — because it impacts both what I write and how I market what I write. However, I’m glad to say I’m no longer overly concerned. I think it’s clear men do read fiction. Even adolescent boys will read fiction if there’s a strong male protagonist and lots of adventure. What is also clear is that men and boys just don’t advertise what they read. For whatever reason. They are also more set as to what they will read, than are women and girls. As a writer, I need to keep this in mind.

Do men read fiction? Yes, they do. Perhaps writers need to include strong male leads in more of their novels. After all, men spend money too. Why not have them throw a little bit in the fiction writer’s path?

As always, comments are welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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