Tag Archives: Shock Totem #4

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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Gossamer: A Story of Love and Tragedy

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Lee Thompson’s work. He writes fast, he writes hard, and he comes up with beautifully tragic stories that are both engaging and soul-crushing.

Gossamer: A Tale of Love and Tragedy is no different. From the very beginning, we’re tossed into an uncomfortably unflinching look at love and loss. Dorothy is a little girl forced to watch her father denounce her mother as a witch. As the sentence is passed, Dorothy hardens her heart and promises revenge.

The main story has to do when Dorothy has lived several lifetimes. She resides in the small town of Gossamer, guardian of an area filled with people that she grows to care for. Then her loneliness puts the residents of Gossamer in danger, and everything changes.

Lee has a clean, easy prose that still manages to be beautiful. He’s especially gifted at writing women, which is rare to see from a male writer. His portrayal of Dorothy and her aunt are both strong and chilling. Later in the book, we are introduced to two more strong mother/daughter characters, and the ineffectual boyfriend. It’s interesting to see the spine and determination in these women, and how far Lee is willing to push them until they either push back or break completely.

This book is full of witches and vampires. It’s full of magical carousals. It’s also full of betrayal, love reciprocated and not, and cowardice. Lee takes the unlovely parts of real life and sets it in a setting so deliciously bizarre that you think you’re simply reading a story, when in fact you’re listening to a man sitting across from you and telling you all about pain.

Gossamer goes down easy and leaves a bitter aftertaste. It’s dark and lovely. I’d recommend it.

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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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Devour It Before It Devours You

John Guzman sent in this incredibly awesome pic. Rock.

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Mentionable Honors

Ellen Datlow just released her full honorable mention list for Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, and while there are a daunting 608 stories on that list, we’re very happy to say that seven of them are from Shock Totem authors.

Though none listed will actually appear on the list of 50 featured in the anthology itself, the recognition for our authors is hardly diminished.

So a hearty congratulations goes out to Lee Thompson, Amanda C. Davis, John Haggerty, Steven Pirie, Aaron Polson, Jeremy Kelly, and Mekenzie Larsen. Well deserved, fellas!

You can read their stories in Shock Totem #3 and #4.

And before I end this, I would be remiss if I didn’t send a very big thank-you to Ellen for her time and consideration. Our appreciation is beyond words.

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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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Screaming in Digital

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally happened. All four issues of Shock Totem plus our brand-new holiday e-book are now available for the Kindle (other formats coming soon). The first two issues and the holiday issue are $0.99, while issues 3 and 4 are $1.99 (because they’re nearly double in size).


[ from one of my all-time favorite albums ]

I originally paid to have issue #1 done by a “professional.” I wasn’t too impressed. So I decided to attempt to teach myself. Easier said that done when you’re as busy as me. But when we decided to do this new holiday issue, which was to be an e-book release, I had no choice but to buckle down and learn the formatting. I wasn’t paying anyone $150 for a two-month turnaround on a rather unimpressive-for-the-cost product.

So this past Monday, after Anthocon, I sat down and began teaching myself how to rock this formatting. A week later, and all our issues are done, including a redesign of issue #1 so that it matches the others.

If you’ve been waiting to check us out, now is the perfect time. All four main issues and the holiday issue for LESS THAN $7! That’s a wicked deal.

Click here to purchase them from Amazon.com, or click the DIGITAL link at the top of our site for additional options.

And please, if you see any issues with the layout, let me know. As I mentioned, I’m a total noob at this e-design stuff. Thanks!

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And the 2011 Flash Fiction Contest Winner is…

Little Knife Houses
by Jaelithe Ingold


As many of you know, throughout the year we host a bi-monthly flash fiction contest on our forum (not to be confused with the bi-weekly one-hour flash challenge). From those bi-monthly winners, an overall winner is chosen by a neutral judge, to be published in the next issue of Shock Totem.

This year’s judge was James Newman, and from the five stories he chose “Little Knife Houses,” by Jaelithe Ingold, which was based on the artwork for our third issue.

Ah, but now we have to break Newton’s Law, the rule we set forth in issue #2, which, after publishing Kurt Newton in our first two issues, stated that we would never again publish an author back-to-back.

Jaelithe, however, was featured in issue #4, with her story “Fade to Black”—which, incidentally, was also the contest-winning story for Café Doom’s 2010 short-story contest. So…rule broken.

And for a good reason! You’ll be able to read “Little Knife Houses” in issue #5 (see the cover and more info on that issue here).

Congratulations, Jaelithe!

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The Slushin’ for Nothin’ Blues

“Delay is preferable to error” —Thomas Jefferson

I used that quote in the editorial for issue #2. I should have seen then that I might one day have to quote it again.

Our second issue was delayed. When January of 2010 came around, we found ourselves short of content. Specifically fiction. We finally filled the issue around the end of March, at which point I made the decision to further delay its release until July, so from there we could continue our July/January release schedule.

And we did, for a while. Issue #3 came out in January of 2011, and issue #4 came out in July, right on schedule. And then we hit a wall. The slush pile stopped producing gold. And here we are, once again without enough content for our next issue.

So I’ve made the decision to delay issue #5 until July of 2012. But this time I’m going to be smarter about it.

By the time our belated second issue came out, we were well on our way to filling the next issue, and in the following months we accepted a lot of stories—all of which we put into that third issue, nearly doubling its size. In hindsight, we should have saved a few of those tales for the fourth issue.

But you know what they say about hindsight.

Going back to that second issue, I thought we’d had a hard time finding content because we were still a new publication, that authors weren’t sending us their best work—or any work, for that matter—because they were still unsure about Shock Totem. I see things differently now. Sometimes four months just isn’t long enough to find the right content, at least if we want to keep releasing a magazine that is up to the standards we’ve set with our previous issues.

So hopefully by delaying our next issue, we’ll be finalizing issue #6 when issue #5 comes out next July. That’s the goal, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I just wish I’d figured this out back in July of 2010.

With that said, we do have some content ready for our next issue, and soon we’ll be announcing the overall winning story from this year’s flash fiction contests, which will be featured in issue #5 as well. And how about a peek at the cover?

Can you dig that? I hope so! And how about this…

Before our fifth issue is released, we will be releasing something else: our first non-magazine release. It’ll be a novel, slated for publication in March 2012. We’ll run a contest soon that’ll reveal the name of this novel, but it’ll require some detective work on your part. It should be fun.

Hopefully this will hold everyone over until issue #5 comes out.

You guys have always been great to us, so I thank you for your anticipated patience and understanding. It is very much appreciated.

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