Tag Archives: Necon

Mountain Home

I’ve been online friends with Bracken MacLeod for over a year. We did sit near each other one time at Necon 2011, but it wasn’t until he slagged on Amy Winehouse mere hours after her demise, saying she looked like she’d been “rode hard and put away wet,” that we saw fireworks and hearts. It’s been all goatees and mutton chops ever since.

So I was quite excited when his debut novella, Mountain Home, came out last month. But I also was a little anxious. What if I didn’t like it? What if it sucked the big one? I hate hurting feelings.

But I had no cause to worry. At all. Mountain Home is a gem. It zips out of the box like a shot and never slows up until the final, jarring scene. What I am saying here is, Bracken knocked it out of the park.

Lyn works at a rest-stop diner, the kind of scummy place that serves the best food. She’s good with customers, but she hates her job and views it as a single step on her life’s journey. She doesn’t care for her boss or most of her co-workers. But when the shit hits the fan and the diner falls under siege from a combat veteran with some serious issues, Lyn finds herself in the reluctant role of leader—and savior—of the band of survivors holed up inside.

Mountain Home is a tale of gritty, nerve-racking action. An indie blockbuster movie that plays on your brain. The characters who carry it upon their bleeding backs are some of the most real and deftly portrayed I have read in some time. The story is smooth and entirely believable. There are twists and surprises but nothing so jarring as to fuck up the groove, the amazing dance he sets us to.

I greatly enjoyed Mountain Home and simply cannot wait to read more from this man. I hope we get that chance.

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Resurrecting the Backlist: The Dead Book LIVES!

As a reader, the first time I came across a new edition of a backlist book was Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. First published in 1983, it was full of wonderfully outdated references that, as an 80s child, I felt right at home with. In 2003, Duane re-released the series under a “New Millenium Edition,” complete with bonus material and updated technology like cell phones. I didn’t understand it, so I dismissed it as a marketing gimmick.

My second exposure to the subject of backlist books was as a writer this past July at Necon. I attended a panel moderated by Lynne Hansen, where she, Christopher Golden, Lori Perkins, Heather Graham, and John Douglas discussed the act of “resurrecting” the backlist and general marketing advice for one’s writing. The panel not only interested me as a writer, but also as a reader. Established authors dusting off their “old” novels creates a library of undiscovered stories released either before I was old enough to read them, like Young Wizards, or that just escaped my attention.

Lynne Hansen, owner at Lynne Hansen Designs, specializes in “book covers that tell a story” and helping authors resurrect their backlist titles. Her clients include Christopher Golden, Amber Benson, James A. Moore, Owl Goingback, Jeff Strand, and Rick Hautala. When I asked Lynne about the top benefit for an author to look at their backlist, her answer echoed my own excitement as a reader: “When a fan discovers you for the first time, you hope that they’ll love your work so much that they’ll want to read your other books. The more books you have in print, the more they’ll have to love.”

In the past few years, many veteran authors are discovering that they are sitting on a gold mine of backlist material. Of course, the reason for books to go out of print is that bookstores can’t carry new releases, classics, and backlist titles in brick-and-mortar stores. However, with the emergence of e-books and the Amazon marketplace, space is no longer an obstacle. Many midlist authors are hoping to again have the luxury of cultivating a fan base without the insane pressure to either hit decent sales numbers or see their books out of print.

Throwing books out of print after a short sales period is a publishing practice that pushed veteran authors like Holly Lisle over the edge in favor of self-publishing their work. On her site, Lisle echoes the sentiments of many authors. “Now,” she says, “frontlist is all that matters, backlist dies, and writing fiction for a living has become not building a career but playing the lottery.”

However, Amazon has kept up with it’s reputation for driving change in the industry and has become the best place to find “new” backlist titles. “I don’t think readers look for re-released titles the same way they look for discount e-books,” said Hansen. Sites like Amazon ensure that multiple editions, “paperback, hardcover, audiobook, etc., are all linked together,” which has been a benefit to authors and a convenience to consumers.

Hansen is passionate about her work, not just for her clients but for readers who “say they’ve wanted to read a book for years but could never find it, and they just downloaded the e-book. And I’ve heard folks say they’re re-reading a book, or even an entire series, now that it’s available electronically. That’s a nice bonus.” As a reader, I appreciate Hansen’s dedication. Nothing makes me happier than finding a new author that has a vast catalog that can be ordered with the click of a button.

Of course, one of the largest benefits to authors using a print-on-demand (POD) service like Amazon and Createspace is “you don’t have to print 10,000 books and store them in your garage just to get an affordable per-copy rate. Companies like Smashwords make it easy for you to upload a single Microsoft Word document and get your e-book distributed to a gazillion different retailers.” As Hansen also mentioned, it isn’t so much the format of the e-book that has made maintaining a backlist possible again, but rather the affordability of the process and the accessibility of those titles to readers.

I’ve heard varied arguments for or against self-publishing. There is an impression that “indie pub” has created a market flooded with unedited first drafts, thrown up for public consumption by amateur writers that are not doing their homework, which is making good writers look bad. Hansen has a much different view: “People like to think that self-publishing is The Great Leveler, but it’s not. Good books still rise to the top and bad books still (generally) fall into obscurity. Sure, there are more opportunities, but there are also a lot more challenges, especially when you’re faced with the prospect of having to do all the production work yourself.”

Fortunately for readers, there is a level of professionalism and dedication that an established author possesses to do it right. The writer seeking to resurrect their backlist has intense work ahead of them in order to re-launch and market their title, which is where Hansen comes in. “If your car breaks, you don’t pop the hood and start checking wires unless you have those skills.” Authors are great at writing books, but a lot more goes into releasing a backlist title for a new market. Obtaining the needed components to resurrect a backlist title take time and energy. This energy is better spent doing the most important task to a writer—actually writing.

“That being said, reissuing a book isn’t as simple as pulling up the Microsoft Word document and adding a copyright page,” said Hansen. “You need to make certain you have the final, edited version of the manuscript and have incorporated any line edits that came from the original publisher. You need the dedication, introduction, acknowledgments, afterword, bio, and links to your online presences.”

Hansen also suggests hiring a cover artist. “You want your name and title crisp and readable, and an image that is striking when it’s small. Most importantly, your book cover needs to resonate with the readers of your genre. If it’s a thriller, it needs to look like a thriller, not like a horror novel. You need a designer who understands marketing, because ultimately, your book cover and blurb are the best marketing tools in your arsenal.”

One difficulty Hansen has faced with marketing her client’s backlist books is “they’re not new books. They’ve already been reviewed and promoted and odds are that your die-hard fans have already read them.” Even authors with an established platform would still need to promote their backlist to a new audience. This might be as easy as appealing to a new generation of fans or hitting the market with the right book at the right time, such as Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala’s Body of Evidence thriller series, featuring young protagonist Jenna Blake.

“In today’s marketplace, the Jenna Blake books would be categorized as ‘new adult’ and is much more likely to be read by adults than by teens. It’s a category that didn’t even exist when the books were being written. For the re-issues, I designed covers that were more familiar to thriller readers than to young adult readers, and we tweaked marketing descriptions to reflect the new focus. It’s really helped the entire series reach many more readers.”

One way that authors can promote their backlist titles might seem obvious: “Backlist books are the gravy, not the meat,” said Hansen. “The best way to promote an old book is to write new ones.”

Personally, I’ve snapped up quite a few backlist titles that were released on Amazon in the past year, including Strangewood by Christopher Golden and The Wicked by James Newman, the latter released by Shock Totem in May of 2012. I was also excited to find Closed Circle Publications, a site created by award-winning sci-fi and fantasy authors C.J. Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, and Jane Fancher to market their backlist titles.

Keep an eye out for the above authors and their amazing, high-quality re-releases coming to an Internet near you. I personally will continue to forgo the trip to Barnes & Noble (which I’ve never been a fan of, honestly) in favor of staying at home with a beer, or a coffee if it’s early enough, and scouring Amazon and Google in search of new backlist titles from veteran authors. So far, my purchases have been more than worth it and have exposed me to stories that would have otherwise gone unexplored.

If any Shock Totem readers have questions about specific backlist projects, please e-mail Lynne Hansen or visit her website for further information.

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Stokers, Flashes and Black Ink

Later this month, at this year’s Bram Stoker Awards™ banquet, to be held at the World Horror Convention in Utah, Mercedes and I do battle. To the death!

Okay, maybe not to the death.

And maybe it’s not so much a battle.

But we are both lucky enough to have stories included in an anthology up for a Stoker Award. That’s worthy of a battle roar or two!

Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed, edited by John Skipp, features Mercedes’s short story “Daisies and Demons”; while my story, “A Deeper Kind of Cold,” appears in Epitaphs: The Journal of New England Horror Writers, edited by Tracy L. Carbone.

Though some would call me biased, I think both anthologies are worthy of the nod. As I’m sure the other three anthologies up for the award are. So may the best one survi—win! May the best one win.

RAAAAAAAAWR!

In other news, John and I have had some very short pieces—by me, “Skipping Shingles”; by John, “Wishes” and “Always Never Enough”—published in Necon E-books’s just-released Best of 2011 flash fiction anthology.

This e-book features all winning and honorable-mention entries from their monthly flash fiction contests throughout 2011, plus a few additional stories from the cover artist, Jill Bauman.

As well, Sideshow Press has finally released the seventh installment in their Black Ink series of extreme fiction (i.e. not meant for children or the weak-stomached). This one features John’s disturbingly twisted “Peter Peter,” which he calls a “tender and sweet, family-friendly tale about the wages of sin.”

I also hear he’s selling bridges in New York.

If any of these books interest you, click on the cover images to purchase.

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Iron Transients Into Hell

I first met Darrell Schweitzer a few years ago at Necon 29, where he was selling books in the dealer room. I bought a few things from him, including his book Living with the Dead, a collection of interconnected short stories set in the bizarre world of Old Corpsenberg. It’s a short little thing, presented as sort of a novella, but its impact on me was immense.

I have numerous old fantasy anthologies and magazines with Schweitzer tales in them, but I became a fan after reading Living with the Dead.

And so this past July, at Necon 31, I picked up two more collections, Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, Refugees from an Imaginary Country, and the novels The Shattered Goddess and The White Isle.

Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, to put it simply, is a fantastic little collection of darkly weird fiction. Not surprising coming from the longtime Weird Tales editor. My favorite story in the book is “Clocks,” a bittersweet ghost story about love and the difficulty of letting go. Other great tales include “Peeling It Off,” “Pennies from Hell,” “Transients,” and “The Spirit of the Black Stairs.” The rest are quite good as well.

Actually, I could have lived without “The Man Who Wasn’t Nice to Pumpkin Head Dolls.” It had a overly cheesy Twilight Zone feel to it—which, now that I think about it, was likely intentional as it first appeared in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Not a bad tale, though, just dated and kind of goofy.

In fact most stories in this set were published in the 80s, so a few others read a bit dated, too; but despite this they’re all done really well. Schweitzer’s use of language is smooth, succinct, and at times downright poetic. I’m amazed this guy isn’t more popular.

He should be.

And in parting, I should mention that the stippled illustrations by Stephen E. Fabian are, as always, fabulous.

This was my first experience reading William Ollie (unless you count the novel excerpt from KillerCon we published in our debut issue), and it was pleasurable one.

Into Hell is part of the Delirium Books novella series. The story follows two post-9/11 scenarios: a group of war veterans struggling to survive during and after a bank heist gone awry (present day) and the same group struggling to survive on the front lines in the Middle East (past).

It’s a fast-paced and fun read, with a slight supernatural element. Very well-written, though done so in a rhythmic staccato fashion with lots of short, two- or three-part sentences that tend to detail the same thing. That might bother people who want a slower, less in-your-face approach to character development, but with it being a novella, and one on the shorter side of things, I felt the quicker pace worked to its advantage.

My one complaint would be that I found it a bit confusing at times. Both story arcs mirror each other, and when a new chapter started, I found myself wondering if this was war or post-war until something distinct appeared on the page. (Though with the luxury of having finished it, I can tell you that the chapters simply alternate back and forth between present and past right till the end.) Either way, both scenarios are depictions of war, one being from without and the other being from within.

Complaint aside, Into Hell is a solid read. It’s too bad that, for now, only 150 copies are available.

I’ve been lucky enough to witness Lee Thompson grow as a writer. I’ve read a lot of his short fiction, from the not so good to the excellent, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m sticking with this cat. He’s got the chops and delivers them yet again with Iron Butterflies Rust.

This is a tale written close to home, I think, one of love, hate, failure and redemption, and the richness—the realness—of it all shines through even the darkest moments of the story. And it’s plenty dark.

There were a couple parts in the beginning that lined up too conveniently for me, and Frank Gunn can be a bastard of a character to sympathize with at times, but overall Iron Butterflies Rust is a fantastic and heartbreaking little tale.

As with Ollie’s Into Hell, this is part of the Delirium Books novella series, thus equally as limited in quantity. A shame. Hopefully this and future Frank Gunn tales (there are more coming) will be released together in a more widely available format at some point.

For now, though, pay attention to Lee Thompson. He’s the real deal.

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