Tag Archives: The Wicked

The Importance of (Good) Reviews

How important is a review? In today’s publishing world, especially on Amazon.com and its international sites, a good review (four or five stars) is worth quite a bit. Dozens of them are priceless.

Shock Totem does most of its sales through Amazon, the bulk of which are digital sales. That’s a great thing, particularly for our authors. Readers are their lifeblood. Ours as well, but while readers keep us afloat on a pride level, we need revenue to sustain us for years to come.

We’ve been around for five years and each of our issues costs around $1,500 to produce. They say most businesses take five years to become profitable. Thankfully, we’re almost to the point where we’re paying for each release with profit from sales. Our last issue, Shock Totem #7, cost $236 out of pocket, which is wonderful.

We’d love to get to a point where we’re not only paying for issues with profit but also making money, enough to expand, raise our pay rate.

And that’s why we still need your help.

The debut issue of Shock Totem is our biggest seller. This is typical for every month. On Amazon, where it matters most, our debut has 28 reviews. That’s eleven more than the closest second, which is issue #2, with 17 reviews.

Our latest issue, however, has just two reviews. And we’re having a hell of a time getting review sites to respond to review requests these days. Not sure if there’s so much self-publishing going on that they’re overwhelmed with review material or if we’re so established they don’t think we need reviews; but whatever the reason, the reality is, we do need reviews.

Why? Beside the obvious reasons, Amazon.com, where sales are highest, has a ranking algorithm (among other things) that helps authors and publishers sell books. One of the biggest theories, and it’s a good one, is that the more four- and five-star reviews a book has, the more it is shown to potential buyers.

Again, our debut issue has nearly a dozen more reviews than any of our other issues and it’s our biggest seller. Signs point to Yes, the algorithm is real and that issue is being put in front of more potential readers than our other issues.

So how can you help? By posting reviews of our work. They don’t have to be long or have literary flair; they just need to be honest.

The more our sales increase, the longer we’ll be around. When so many publications are using Kickstarter to fund their projects, we’d like to earn people’s money. So if you’d be so kind, please consider reviewing anything of ours that you have read. We’d be very grateful.

In parting, and this applies not only to our books but any book, please note the difference in ratings between sites.

Three stars on Goodreads is not the same as three stars on Amazon. (There is another theory that any review given with less than four stars on Amazon seriously impacts a book’s rankings—kicks it right into the gutter, in fact. Again, this is a theory, but based on authors’ experience, it’s a good one.) For instance, a two-star review on Goodreads should be a three-star review on Amazon, as both mean it was “okay.” Therefore, a three-star review on Goodreads should be a four-star review on Amazon, which helps the author quite a deal more. Again, in theory.

And finally, thank you! Five years strong. We’ve lost some staff along the way, but we’re still dedicated and committed to the long haul. It’s been a hell of a ride so far. Help us keep the wheels on!

Posted in Editorials, Publishing, Reviews, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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.

Posted in Articles, Blog, New Releases, On Writing, Publishing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales from the Metalnomicon: James Newman

We here at Shock Totem HQ are big fans of Decibel Magazine, and we’ve been very privileged to have a fan in one of their writers.

Shawn Macomber has featured Shock Totem on the Deciblog in the past, and just recently he invited James Newman to stop by and drop some knowledge on writing and music for his Tales from the Metalnomicon feature.

Looking for inspiration? Click here.

Posted in Alumni News, Blog, Music, On Writing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brutal As Hell Reviews The Wicked

Getting a Google Alert that links a review of The Wicked on a site called Brutal As Hell is a scary thing. Not having heard of the site before, I was worried that it was some elitist website run by a bunch of literary snobs that just shred anything read by more than 3.75 people.

Luckily, Brutal As Hell is a site we should all be reading. Fantastic stuff over there! And I’m happy to say, the reviewer, Marc Patterson, gave The Wicked a great review. If you have a moment, give it a read, or at least bookmark the site.

“At 325 pages long The Wicked is a surprisingly quick read thanks to Newman’s immersive storytelling that propels you deep into the pages at a frenzied pace. Time will be lost quickly as you rabidly consume this horrifying tale.”

Have you picked up your copy yet?

Posted in Alumni News, Book Reviews, Reviews, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Horror Booth Reviews The Wicked

A relatively new site–at least it appears that way–called The Horror Booth has reviewed The Wicked. We didn’t send them a copy, so it’s a nice surprise.

“Newman’s writing is very easy to devour in this book and I am curious to read some of his other stuff to see how it compares; he has certainly set the bar high with this one.”

Another great one! You can read it here.

Have you picked up your copy yet?

Posted in Alumni News, Book Reviews, Reviews, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Crow’s Caw Reviews The Wicked…Plus an Essay and a Contest

The almighty Jassen Bailey has given The Wicked a great review over at The Crow’s Caw.

“This is one of the coolest paperback I’ve ever laid eyes on. This is the total package.”

You can read the review here.

More than that, however, Jassen has allowed James to guest blog about The Wicked, specifically the excellent characterization found within the book. It’s a wonderfully insightful read.

And if that’s not cool enough, they’re giving away two copies of The Wicked and one copy of James’s fantastic collection, People Are Strange. All you have to do is go to the comments section and post your top 10 favorite horror novels and movies from the 80s. Couldn’t be easier!

Again, you can find the review, essay, and contest here. Dig it!

Posted in Alumni News, Book Reviews, Contests, Essays, Guest Blog, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Conversation with James Newman

James Newman…a Southern Gentlemen who gave us the novels Midnight Rain and The Wicked, as well as such novellas as the co-authored Night of the Loving Dead, with James Futch, and Holy Rollers. And his latest novel, Animosity, was just released through Necessary Evil Press.

Newman was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to sit and chew the fat with me…

JB: James, we’ve known each other a few years, met up—where was it, the old Horror Channel board? I don’t recall, do you?

JN: I think that’s right. Of course, I can barely remember what I did last week, half the time. I used to think it was because I’d smoked too much weed back in the day. Now I know it’s just ’cause I’m getting old.

Seriously, though, thanks for asking me to do this. It’s always a pleasure talking to you, John.

(more…)

Posted in Alumni News, Blog, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Evolution of a Book Cover

Most artists live in the shadows of their work—and few see them.

We have sold thousands of copies of Shock Totem, and one thing we’re consistently complimented on is our cover art. This happens all the time. Think about that. We get complimented for something we did not create. All the time. The artist, for the most part, is ignored.

Sure, someone from Taiwan got on his back a tattoo of a slightly altered version of the cover art for issue #1—which is flippin’ brilliant—but that’s an extreme compliment. How many people have just e-mailed our artists to tell them how great their work is? Few, if any. I’d bet a lot of money on that.

But they tell us. Again, all the time.

Much like the fact that most people don’t understand how much time and effort an author puts into creating his work, I don’t think people understand or appreciate how much goes into creating cover art—or album art, a painting, a cartoon, etc.

On our Facebook page, we have a photo collection called Resonance. In it you’ll find a series of photos that includes numerous drafts of ideas for cover art we didn’t use, as well as early/alternate versions of the cover art we eventually did use. We want people to see part of the process, because it’s a long one that takes a lot of time and hard work.

As mentioned recently, we will soon reissue James Newman’s ode to 80s horror, The Wicked. We commissioned new artwork from Jesse David Young, as well as numerous interior illustrations. This process began back on September 16, 2011. Over six months ago. To give you a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, I’ve put together a little slideshow which begins with the very first sketch idea and ends with the final product.

(All the artwork was done by Jesse David Young, but the layouts for final three covers shown were done Mikio Murakami, Rex Zachary, and Yannick Bouchard, respectively.)


[ hover for controls ]

Scroll down this page a bit, and on the right sidebar you’ll see a section labeled Artists of the Totem. Below it, links to all the artists that have helped make Shock Totem great. Check them out, hire them—or, at least, if you like their work, let them know.

Posted in Artwork, Blog, Publishing, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

And the Wicked Awesome Shock Totem Contest Winner is…

Bec Zugor

Bec guessed The Wicked, which is the correct answer. As I stated in the contest post below, all the clues you needed to lead you to the answer were in that post. The first, and probably least obvious, was “wicked” in the post title. But the real clues were in the image itself.

Figuring out what kind of car that is was probably the hardest for most people. It is a Bugatti. Minus the “atti,” and you’re left with Bug. A gold one, thus “Gold Bug,” or “The Gold-Bug,” Poe’s well-known tale of cryptograms and secret writing. You will also see Poe himself in the dashboard/windshield area near the steering wheel, as well as a raven on the roof.

The numbers at the bottom represent words within “The Gold-Bug,” and the first letter of each of those words spells out The Wicked, which is the title of our upcoming novel. More on that soon.

So congratulations to Bec!

And thanks to everyone who gave it a go. We plan to have more contests like this one in the future.

Posted in Contests, Shock Totem News | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments