Of Cliffhangers, Free Books, and Cheap B*stards…

I posted this earlier on AuthorCulture, and thought it worth reposting here:

This isn’t at all the post I imagined I’d be writing, but it’s weighed on my mind for the past two days so heavily I haven’t thought of much else in my spare time.

Recently, I made the first book in my Jefferson’s Road series permanently free. I am told by many on kboards.com and other kindle-centered sites that this is a particularly effective marketing strategy employed by many authors to entice readers into trying a series. And indeed, nothing sells quite like free. Since going free, my book has been downloaded almost six hundred times (not just Amazon), and I’ve seen an uptick in sales of the other books in the series. And everything was going along swimmingly, until I received the following review:

I get it. Authors write books to sell and make money from their sale. This author can not be blamed for his effort, his writing abilities, or his product. I very much enjoyed the partial book I just finished but his total overt intention was for the readers to buy the next partial book, the next partial book and the next and so on. Most writers do this but Kindle editions are becoming less than desired due to this process. This partial book would have received 4-5 stars except for the presentation of the alleged ending. Sadly, the author’s interest was more in selling his next book than providing enjoyment. I will not fall for it by buying the entire story.

He left me 1 star.

1 star?!! On a book he so clearly believes deserves a 4 or 5?

What really incensed me is this term “partial book,” as if somehow, I did not bring Jefferson’s Road: The Spirit of Resistance (shameless marketing plug and link inserted) to a full, complete, and satisfying ending.

Which is simply not true. Now, this is what I wrote in response:

Partial book? Seriously? You get a book for free, and then complain because why, the rest of the story isn’t free as well? I tell you what: go to my website and contact me directly through the contact form. I will GIVE you the next two book in the series. But don’t call these partials. It’d be like calling the first season of a TV show incomplete because they wanted to make a second season. Book one can and does stand on its own, but the story can and does continue on from there.

The thing is, the Jefferson’s Road books are cliffhangers. Each one is designed to end on a massive plot hook that carries you into the next installment. That’s the point of the cliffhanger. It is a completely legitimate and rather ancient art form, dating at least as far back as Scheherazade in 1001 Arabian Nights. Now, in Scheherazade’s case, she wasn’t employing a marketing strategy or trying to sell anything. She was simply trying to stay alive one more night. Her goal was to live one more day, and over time, to make the all-powerful sultan fall in love with her.

Frankly, as a writer, I’m doing the same thing. I’m trying to survive one more day in the cutthroat world of fiction, and hoping to make the all-powerful reader fall in love with me. I don’t want the reader’s money (per se: because let’s be honest, I am trying to earn some dough) as much as I want the reader’s heart.

My goal is simply to make the reader say, “I read all six books practically in one sitting, and I simply could not put them down!” as has happened a few times already.

I believe this reviewer would not have given me 1 star if I made the rest of the series free as well. The books each run well over 300 pages, and they take some time to write. That’s why I haven’t released it as one single, massively long narrative (who am I? George R.R. Martin?). If I had, I seriously doubt I’d have as many readers as I do. Think it has something to do with short attention spans, or people not wanting to give that much time commitment to a new, unheard of author.

Which means, to me at least, this reviewer’s chief complaint is that I dared ask him for a couple of bucks, as if selling books is somehow distasteful. Actually, that’s not right, either. I didn’t ask him for anything. I made a book available for free, which he chose to pick up of his own free will. And he liked it, too. But now he wants the rest free as well? Maybe some day, when I don’t need book sales of a single series to help me make my grocery bill, I can offer the entire thing for free and just let the readers enjoy. But for now, I just want to scream,

“Hey buddy! Amazon is a BOOK STORE, not a LIBRARY!”

2012 Retrospective

I was about to begin this post with some banal cliché about what a crazy year it’s been, or what a difference a year makes, or something similar, when it occurred to me that such thoughts were, well, banal and clichéd. It’s a curious habit we have: taking stock of the past 364 (or in this case, 365) days and asking ourselves how things are different. Life changes on a dime, and what difference does it really make where that change happens on the calendar? My life about came to an end almost four years ago with my wife’s cancer diagnosis. Every day since then has been a gift of sorts (still cancer free going on four years!).

Not a lot has changed for us here in the Scott home. I still have the same job I had last year. Same schedule. Same house. Everyone’s a year older. My daughter is now leading worship at our home church, but that’s only been going on for about six weeks now.

We’re still having the same sorts of arguments and disagreements and disagreeableness in a house filled with teenagers that we were last year. Things are a little smoother in some ways, but not so much that I could say things are radically different. The economy still sucks. Politics still suck. And our American culture shows continual signs of severe distress. Life goes on, even as it feels like it’s getting worse all around.

I began this post with the intention of talking about my writing/publishing career, and now it seems it’s taken a more serious tone. Apologies for that.

What’s changed… Well, I have more books available now than I did this time last year. I had just finished Spilled Milk, and Eye of Darkness remained a future hope. The Lost Scrolls came out this year, so that’s good. I now have two more completed novels I’ll be releasing soon (and The Elixir of Life, the sequel to The Lost Scrolls, is due out in Spring), and one more that will be completed shortly (In the Widening Gyre). At the end of 2011, I’d sold 344 books for the year, at an average rate of 29 books a month. I made about $371 on books that year. As of 2012, I’ve sold 1106 books for the year, at an average rate of 92 books per month, and earned about $1,625 for the year. Of course, that includes the major sale in September, which I’ve yet to duplicate. The actual average is about 38 books per month. Still an improvement, but hardly enough to live on.

I’ve now finished nine novels. Soon to be ten.

I think this next year, I want writing to be fun again. These past few months it’s taken on such a push (both the heavy September marketing and the NaNoWriMo contest in November being largely responsible), that I want to back off a bit and have more fun doing this. What’s the point if I’m not enjoying it? Especially given the nature of the world at large to show such signs of rot. I write because I need to – not because I have some kind of message to give (Jefferson’s Road notwithstanding), but because I need the escape from it all, perhaps just as much as my readers (now in excess of 31,000 books being read – that’s new!) need the escape as well. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that I’ll get “discovered,” or that something radical will happen, and my books will take off – thus changing our lives permanently.

Well, one can always hope.

Happy New Year.

A Day at The Theme Park

So today the whole family is going to Darien Lake for a day of fun and frivolity amidst the rides and water slides. Meanwhile, we’re praying against rain because we don’t want to get… wet.

Have I mentioned that I hate theme parks? I mean, like, passionately? I’ve explained this to the fam, and they’ve threatened to leave me home (probably appropriately), but I’d rather go and paste on a smile than face the wrath of having missed out on a day for the kids. They want me to go and they want me to like it. Whether I like it or not.

So I’m going. I’m missing out on my writers’ group tonight as well, which is a double-whammy. It gets frustrating, because until I can show an income from this writing, I cannot legitimately justify (to them) the time needed to develop these stories.

So hopefully, Amazon will approve my Kindle book and I can start selling it and earning some bucks from it.

This isn’t so I can escape from the kids. Honest. I just don’t like being made to feel guilty for doing something that I love, something that I believe will make life better for all of us once I make it.

At least I can pack a notebook and pen…

Back on the Dole

Once again I find myself filing unemployment. My last gig was a temp job here in Rochester. It came to an end when the company started hiring full time employees who actually have degrees in marketing.


The economy is in the toilet right now. Unemployment is growing. This means there are a lot of qualified people out there looking for work, and who’s going to hire an underemployed minister who happens to have computer and typing skills?

I whined to God a bit this morning, something along the lines of “Where are all these blessings I keep reading about? Where are the plans to prosper me and not to harm me? When is this future hope going to be realized?” God’s answer was “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to take care of you.”

And once again I have a choice: do I trust Him? Or do I not trust Him? The question isn’t as easy in depth as it is on the surface. The surface answer is: of course you trust Him! He’s proven His good character time and time again!

Deeper, though, I find myself pondering His trustworthiness, towards me in particular. It helps to remember my times are in His hands, and a good life isn’t about having a good job, a nice home with a white picket fence, and everything wrapped up and handed to me with a nice, neat little bow. I know God will come through for me. Every one of His promises will be fulfilled–if they haven’t been already.

But I get so frustrateed when I feel like I’m on the edge of seeing His promises realized, only to find my way is blocked yet again. Ever since coming out here to Rochester, I’ve felt I was on the very cusp of seeing all my lifelong dreams realized: home of my own, church plant, published author, etc (and no, I don’t include family in there for two reasons: a) I already have a family, and b) I don’t look at them as a goal to be achieved.). And yet, just as I’m about to reach for the brass ring, I find myself slamming into a glass ceiling, and I can’t seem to break through.

I talked to a friend about this yesterday. She suggested–through her own experience–that having your dreams realized can be just as disappointing, when they turn out to be a mirage. But I think I’d rather have that happen, so I can move on, than to keep banging my fist against the glass ceiling trying to get through. At least then there would be some resolution to this.

For now, all I can do is either give up or keep trying.

And if I can help it, I never give up.


The other night I received yet another rejection letter. Sigh. I hate getting the constant rejection letters. The bright spot was this agent said, “you’re almost there.” That’s nice. Smooths the sting out a little bit.

But still. It flat out sucks. Especially when I know The Coppersmith is a good story. Good premise. Good writing. Good beginning, middle, and ending.

I admit I probably haven’t written a best seller. What do you want for a first novel? But I know the story is good, and the writing better than a lot of what has been published out there (yeah, I know. This complaint is heard a lot. I can prove it though. Just read Dwellers. You’ll see what I mean.).

It’s almost as though I can either tone down the Christianity to make the story palatable for secular markets, or tone down the dark suspense to make it palatable for the blue-hairs that Christian agents seem to think comprise the Christian market.

Or, I can try to edit the book to push it past all expectations for a first novel and break new ground. That’s appealing, of course, except that I’m tired of trying to rewrite the darn thing. I just want it to be accepted already.

Or, I can just shove it in a drawer (virtual, of course) and fuggedaboutit. Write something else. Try something else. And there’s real appeal to this. I think I sorta need to move on. I have too many other stories to write and tell. Putting out another novel will broaden my experience and strengthen my credibility. Not to mention improve my writing through practice. Stephen King was rejected on his first two novels before he broke through with Carrie (if memory serves). That may be the course I have to take.

The Autographs is about half done, by word count. I need to finish it and start trying to publish it right now. And just keep trying. One of these novels is going to break through. There are still more to write.

Venting Frustration

I just sent off my third resume of the day. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’ve been unemployed for about three months now. God said He would provide for all my needs (Philippians 4:19), so I know we’ll be okay, I just don’t know when or how. The church isn’t able to help out (just a handful of people as it is), but we’re getting along fine on unemployment (except that we keep dipping into our savings a little bit each month to make ends meet).

My frustration is this: WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET HIRED AROUND HERE?!?!?!?

Ahh. That feels better. I have updated my resume and I’ve been sending it out to every company imaginable that’s looking for administrative or marketing type work (I’m a wiz with the Microsoft Office program group, type 60 wpm, and have spent the last two years working for a major marketing firm here in Rochester). You’d think I could at least score an interview.

And I don’t think it’s enough to say, “Well, it’s a tough economy.” There are jobs available. That’s why I’m sending the resume. They just ain’t calling me! GRrr!

I know, I know. No one has to hire me. A job is something of a privilege (even though it’s a necessity as well). And I am making good use of the time otherwise. I’ve looked into internet marketing (not for me, I think. Can’t figure out what to sell or who to sell it to.). I’ve looked into writing articles (and why does my inspiration always come in the middle of the night? I should really just get up and write the stuff down – except I’d wake the wife), but can’t figure out what to write.

What do I want? I want full time ministry again. I want to write and sell my books. In the meantime, I want to be able to work a regular job and feed the kids until one or both of those things takes off and becomes a paying gig.

I just feel like I’m stuck in some kind of box. It’s hot and sweaty and kinda cramped, but I can’t seem to get out. I keep praying, “Hello?! I know You’re out there, God! Can I come out now?” But the box remains shut.

…to top it all off, I’m outta coffee….

No More Naivete

This is harder than I thought. Maybe harder than it should be. I dunno.

I had visions – when I first got the idea for The Coppersmith, when I first started writing it and realized I had something special – I had visions of it being wildly received and taking the CBA (that’s “Christian Booksellers Association”) world by storm.

Now, of course, I recognize how grossly naive that was.

It’s been over a year and a half since I finished the book. Three years since I first met Special Agents Janelle Becker and Ron Wilson, and realized they’d had an affair. Three years since the first priest was found murdered in St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Clyde, New York – his face and body torn to shreds by the Coppersmith’s misguided wrath.

Three years, and no one pays any attention. Eleven pastors dead. One more burned beyond recognition. And no one is interested.

Ironic. It’s not all that different from church-planting. Two years into this church plant and we’ve gone through three worship leaders. Maybe people don’t want to go to church with a pastor who writes psychothrillers. Go figure.

Every day in the news I can read about Muslims doing this or that. I can read about Christians being arrested for speaking up for their beliefs. No one seems to notice or care that the philosophical underpinnings of Western Civilization are being systematically eroded to the point where the whole thing will collapse. Psalm 11:3 “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

I’m whining, of course. It won’t get me far, but it’s nice to get it off my chest.