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Guest Blog: Lee Thompson Discusses Ways to Measure Your Success (Plus a Giveaway)

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing… On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there’s something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

Welcome to Lee Thompson’s A Beautiful Madness blog tour!

This stop is a special one since I love Shock Totem magazine and the people who have made it such a monumental success, which strangely enough is what this post is about. They’re beautiful people over at ST, and so are the stories they publish, and the covers that grace their issues.

Since I’ve been in two issues, in addition to one person winning a paperback copy of my novel, I’ll also be giving away two copies of Shock Totem! Issue #4, which featured my story “Beneath the Weeping Willow,” and issue #6, where I have a story called “The River” and was interviewed by K. Allen Wood (the publisher and sexy beast). Very neat, yes? To win, make sure you leave a comment and share the link on Shock Totem’s website, lovelies.

(Note: We will also be adding a hardcover copy (19 of 150) of Lee’s limited edition Delirium Books novella Down Here in the Dark.)

Ways to Measure Your Success (Expect and Accept Change)

There’s not much worse than for five years to go by and for you to look back over those years and feel that nothing has changed. Especially since it’s our responsibility to learn, adapt, and change things. No one else makes our choices for us once we’re an adult. But did you know what you wanted back then? Did you have a clear, specific goal? Did you have steps to carry yourself to that goal, or did you keep doing the things you were doing and expect to conjure such success from thin air?

If so, you’re not alone. But where have you succeeded? There has to be some area, doesn’t there? Look deep, look back, be objective. If you haven’t made strides, it might be time to start from scratch and rethink the way you’re approaching your writing career. You’re going to have to change for the better.

Expecting to succeed—to sell your first novel or first pro short story, or to get interviewed in the paper, or whatever—without studying the craft and just winging it, is like a guy swinging a golf club and expecting to be a pro golfer in five years. He can be doing a dozen things wrong in his swing and practice those wrong techniques ten thousand times, but only hurting himself.

A great way to measure your success is to pay a pro for feedback. (Tom Piccirilli offers an editing service.) Look at their feedback and go through it one point at a time, through your whole book, looking for the places they’ve marked as red flags and learn to understand why those things hurt your story instead of help it.

You can measure your success by comparing yourself to your peers. But it’s a trap filled with frustration. They can only write what they write and you can only write what you write. You might be a better networker but they might write better stories, or vice versa. They might be getting what appears constant praise while you can barely get someone to review your first novel. They might be single like me and have very few distractions while you might have a job and a family to dole out time and energy. There are too many variables, and comparing yourself to your peers isn’t very healthy. If you find yourself in this trap, it wouldn’t hurt to slap some sense into yourself.

You can measure your success by reviews. Reviewers read a lot of books so they can usually spot big flaws and what doesn’t work for them pretty quickly. They’re also passionate about the genre they’re reviewing. I like measuring my success this way. If someone loves reading they’re going to offer something useful I can use to improve.

You can measure your success by word count. I’ve never worried about this, but it seems to be a popular thing among writers. It seems a double-edged sword, though, telling yourself you have to hit a certain number, shifting, at least in the back of your mind, from writing a quality story to worrying about how many individual words you finished today. And then there is a lot of guilt in this approach too. I’ve seen tons of writers cry and beat themselves up because they fell behind on their word count that day or week or month. It’s a distraction, if you ask me, that doesn’t have many benefits. If you ignore the word count altogether and just write the story with as much passion and skill as you can, it will end up whatever length it needs to be.

You can measure your success by the project. Each novel you write will be different in critical ways. I like to experiment and break rules. When I began brainstorming A Beautiful Madness I knew I was going to break one of the big rules, and I did it, and knew it would and did work. The challenge each novel creates is fun to face. If you’re testing yourself on each individual story, to try new characters, new storylines, new ways to manage the POV shifts, and searching your heart for the little details that make the story familiar but fresh, there is a lot of satisfaction in that.

You can measure success by hitting deadlines. I like to set myself a deadline and have been doing so for years. (You’ll have to start doing that to be a professional writer, so why not start now?) I usually take a week to brainstorm the characters and the major beats of the novel and then write down the date I want to finish the first draft. Normally I have two deadlines. I set a high goal of six weeks. And then I set a more relaxed deadline of three months. Usually I hit somewhere around two months for a first draft but have finished some novels in two weeks. They’re all different.

You can measure success by copies sold. I’m setting a goal of moving 10,000 copies of A Beautiful Madness in the first year of its release, mostly because I want to gain a hefty new fan base and secure myself a position as a Crime writer to go to for a certain type of story.

With three years of publishing history, I can tell you that book sales spike and plummet if you have a small audience (there will be more on this in another guest post). Since there are such peaks and valleys, I’m shooting for the yearly goal of copies moved instead of a monthly one. If I’m six months into it and have only sold a quarter of what I want to get out there in readers’ hands, then I will have to get creative and up my game to hit my goal. It’s nice motivation. I think it’s doable too, with the publisher I have, and the fans I’ve gained over the last three years. And since A Beautiful Madness is my first Crime novel, it will always have a special place in my heart no matter how it’s received.

You can measure success by reader feedback. I’ve got awesome fans. They’re so warm and intelligent and funny. I wouldn’t move any copies if it wasn’t for them and my publisher because I’d rather be writing and reading than spending time online trying to pimp myself. A lot of them have become friends over the last three years too, although at one time they were complete strangers, opening one of my novels or novellas for the first time. It’s pretty cool. I measure my success in this way a lot, because it’s tangible, and if you ever feel down there are always people there shooting you an email saying they just finished your book and loved it and recommended it to their friends. They thank you, which is weird, but I get it because every time I read a great book I want to thank the author for taking the time to write it too.

You can measure success by professional feedback. I was fortunate the last four years to receive feedback from professional editors and agents and writers. I think it was important for me to have those people tell me I had talent and imagination and energy, but needed to work on characterization. Listening to them is what helped me start selling fiction.

You can adapt an attitude of I-don’t-give-a-fuck. Readers, editors, reviewers, some will love your work, some will hate it, some will never be more than lukewarm about it. You can just write for yourself if you want, like you probably did when you first started and you were thrilled by simply writing and finishing something. There’s no pressure in that. And it’s your life. Do what you want, what you feel is right, for you and your work.

How do you measure your success?

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Kindle): http://amzn.com/B00K36ITGS

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Paperback): http://amzn.com/1940544297

Lee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A Beautiful Madness (August 2014), It’s Only Death (January 2015), and With Fury in Hand (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation. He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary.

Visit Lee’s website to discover more.

There will also be a grand prize at the end of the tour where one winner will receive A Beautiful Madness and four other DarkFuse novels in Kindle format! Simply leave a comment on this blog and share the link.

Thanks to those who participate.

Happy Reading,
Lee

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Hot in December

A thriller is supposed to thrill. It’s supposed to keep you flipping those pages. Make you ask, “What’s going to happen next?” Joe R. Landsdale’s Hot in December does all that. In spades. At 100 pages, the novella moves like a speeding bullet through the warm East Texas night.

Tom Chan has a dilemma. He’s witnessed a fatal hit-and-run and he wants to testify against the scum who turned his next-door neighbor into roadkill. Problem is, the driver’s a vindictive gangster who doesn’t believe in due process. Nonetheless, Tom doesn’t back down. But he’s not going to trust the cops to save his bacon. So he enlists two old war buddies, Cason and Booger—the type of ass-kicking, whacked-out characters readers have come to expect in a Lansdale story—to help him deal with the lowlife and his goons. What ensues is a tension-filled battle of wits and brawn leading to a bloody showdown between the good guys and the bad guys.

Hot in December has all the ingredients of a great Joe Lansdale story: break-neck plotting; honest, raw dialogue; colorful characters; and those amazing metaphors that only Joe can whip up. The story dovetails nicely with his Hap and Leonard stories (in fact the duo even gets a mention) and is sure to please any fans of that series as well as any fans of honest-to-goodness thrillers.

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Kindle Users: Free Shock Totem

This week only we’re running promos on the first five issues of Shock Totem (not including the special holiday issue). Starting today, Kindle users will be able to download issue #1 for free. Tomorrow, issue #2 will be free, Wednesday, issue #3, and so on.


Click the links below to download!

Monday/Tuesday: Shock Totem 1: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted
Tuesday/Wednesday: Shock Totem 2: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted
Wednesday/Thursday: Shock Totem 3: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted
Thursday/Friday: Shock Totem 4: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted
Friday/Saturday: Shock Totem 5: Curious Tales of the Macabre and Twisted

We ran a similar promo a little over a year ago, and it generated 10,000 downloads. We hope to once again reach thousands of new readers. If you haven’t read all—or any—of our issues, now is the perfect time. If you have, please encourage others to give us a shot.

Thanks!

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Tribesmen

One of the greatest rewards that comes from publishing Shock Totem is being able to watch young writers evolve within—and sometimes beyond—their craft. Even when I read something less than great, there remains something special about it.

It’s in the knowing that they’re going to eventually come back with something that will knock my socks off, I think. There’s an it factor, involved—easy to see, but impossible to explain.

And Adam Cesare has it.

Tribesmen is Adam’s debut novella, and it’s a thing of bloody-good brilliance. Setting the bar even higher, it was published under John Skipp’s new imprint, Ravenous Shadows, which is quite a place to make a literary home.

The book centers around a cast of filmmaking misfits attempting to create a movie that is less an homage to and more of a blatant rip-off of the Italian exploitation horror films from the 80s. In the spirit of Ruggero Deodato’s feel-awful classic from 1980, Cannibal Holocaust, Cesare’s Tribesmen takes place on a small Caribbean island, where the indigenous people become much more than visual props by instead making their directorial debut.

This is a character-driven book fueled by fear, greed, lust, violence, and the blood-red lure of cinematic glory. Tribesmen is a smart, visceral, and poignant commentary on the ugly side of humanity. Which, in this case, is a beautiful thing.

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It’s a Long Way Down

Doing a free promo was a great high, watching the numbers go up and up and up. But the higher you go…

Expected, but the visual is depressing.

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Only Time Will Tell…

As noted in my previous update, we opted to make our digital issues exclusive to the Kindle and lowered the price on a few of them so that they’re all priced at 99 cents. A lot of people dislike the 99-cent price point, suggesting it cheapens the product and conditions buyers to expect that price for all e-books. A valid argument, but it’s something that doesn’t work for us. Not now, at least.

So all digital issues are priced at $0.99. Future issues will likely be priced higher, but not much. For now, though, sales are good. Of course, selling a hundred copies nets $35, so “good” isn’t necessarily monetarily good. But this is about readers, and more readers is what we desperately need.

The digital issues have helped with that. And in an attempt to boost our readership, on Sunday, December 10, we made available for free through Amazon the digital version of our fourth issue. On the surface, it was a great success.

In the span of 24 hours, issue #4 was downloaded 408 times. Sounds fantastic, right? Well, only time will tell. I learned long ago that people love free stuff, but not necessarily for any other reason than it’s free. At conventions, you’ll sell more, in my opinion, if you don’t have a table loaded with free bookmarks, stickers, pins, candy, etc. Just have your product visible and you’ll make more sales.

So the question is, how many of those 408 people will read Shock Totem #4? I am not crazy enough to think they all will, but I’m hopeful enough to think a lot of them will. (Hopefully we see some positive reviews in the future.) If even a dozen read it, enjoy it, and eventually check out more work from our authors or pick up our other issues, then it will have been worth it. But again, time will tell…

We peaked at 587, I believe, on the Free in Kindle Store list. It would have been great to hit the top 100, but we stayed in the top 1,000 nearly the entire 24 hours. Can’t complain about that. But the funniest thing of all, was this:

A once in a lifetime achievement, I’d say. And a fitting one at that.

Thanks to everyone who downloaded issue #4. If you read it, please let us know what you think. I’ll post again on this subject in the future…

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WE ARE 99 CENTS!!

As many of you know, all issues of Shock Totem recently were made available in digital format. As of today, all issues are now just $0.99.

However, I’ve made the decision to make them exclusive to the Kindle. For the time being, at least.

Here’s why…

Amazon recently introduced a program called KDP Select, and it piqued my interest. It made other writers scoff. Essentially, it allows Amazon Prime members one free e-book download per month through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. And those authors/publishers who make their work available exclusively through the Kindle—which we have done—can participate.

So if you have an Amazon Prime account, you now have the option to read any Shock Totem issue for free.

My reasons for doing this are very simple. No, I do not expect us to make a lot of money. Though Amazon entices people with big numbers, that’s simply Marketing 101. What this new program can do for us, is get our issues in front of new readers. And at this point, for Shock Totem, exposure is very important. More important than money, because without new readers we will never be a self-sustaining business.

My budget includes the costs of running Shock Totem Publications. I’d love to use less out-of-pocket money and more money from profits for the cost of our issues, but if that is ever going to change, we need new readers. We need to be seen by people outside of the small press, and this KDP Select will, hopefully, help with that.

We’ll see…

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Special Shock Totem Holiday E-book—Now Available!

Now available for the Kindle, Shock Totem’s special holiday e-book. You can purchase a copy here for $0.99. To purchase copies from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, or Amazon.fr, click the Digital link at the top of our site.

This issue features an eclectic mix of holiday-inspired dark fiction from K. Allen Wood, Mercedes M. Yardley, Kevin J. Anderson, Robert J. Duperre and more. Also anecdotal holiday recollections from Jack Ketchum, Jennifer Pelland, Mark Allen Gunnells, Nick Cato, and a host of others.

Celebrate the holidays with Shock Totem!

Here’s is the table of contents:

* Heartless, by Mercedes M. Yardley
* Vincent Pendergast’s Holiday Recollection
* Jennifer Pelland’s Holiday Recollection
* Streamer of Silver, Ribbon of Red, by K. Allen Wood
* Mark Allan Gunnells’ Holiday Recollection
* Nick Cato’s Holiday Recollection
* Santa Claus Is Coming to Get You, by Kevin J. Anderson
* Stacey Longo’s Holiday Recollection
* Tinsel, by John Boden
* Leslianne Wilder’s Holiday Recollection
* One Good Turn, by Robert J. Duperre
* Jack Ketchum’s Holiday Recollection
* Sheldon Higdon’s Crappy Holiday Recollection
* Christmas Wish, by Sarah Gomes
* Simon McCaffery’s Holiday Recollection
* ‘Twas the Night, by Nick Contor
* Daniel I. Russell’s Holiday Recollection
* Lee Thompson’s Holiday Recollection
* A Krampus Christmas, by Ryan Bridger
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Story Notes)


[ click photo to enlarge ]

Happy holidays!

Posted in Alumni News, Shock Totem Digital, Shock Totem News, Staff News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sunday Reads: On Writing, Podcasts, and Zombie Ants

Here’s a handful of links from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

First, over at Liberty Conspiracy, Gard Goldsmith has posted two podcasts featuring over an hour’s worth of interviews and commentary recorded at this year’s World Horror Convention in Austin, Texas. You can listen to part one here and part two here. Great stuff!

On the writing front, here’s something for the struggling writer: Thirteen tips to help you get some writing done. And this would probably fall under the category of Struggling Writer, but specifically, here’s a little something for the depressed writer. But maybe you’re neither struggling nor depressed, so how about a Writer Reality Check? Can’t hurt.

Right?

For those of us venturing into the world of e-books, check out Nathan Bransford’s enlightening piece on the 99 cent e-book and the tragedy of the commons. It’s bananas (while they last).

Now for the fun stuff: Zombie ants! Heard of them? Have you read Spore, by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow (dude, you need a website)? Either way, check out another example of art imitating life.

And with that, I’ll leave you with these amazing images.

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