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!”

Moving Forward

I don’t know if it’s because of the weekend, or if it’s due to the initial climb plateauing and starting to fall, but the book appears to have levelled off in the rankings, with a slight decline down to #1655 in overall rankings, #6 in Political and #55 in Action & Adventure.  Nevertheless, I’m not concerned. Like I said, I’m looking for real readers here, not just people stuffing their kindles with freebies. I’m not complaining either way. Frankly, it’s nice to know people give my book the time of day, and I appreciate all those who’ve downloaded a copy.

And people are still dowloading it. Some others may be climbing faster, but that’s okay.

In the meantime, I’m still working on all six WIPs, and they have each crossed the 30K threshold as of this afternoon. Here’s the latest breakdown of my word counts:

Descent 33,902
God and Country 31,261
The Blood-Eater Coven 30,700
A Glass Half-Empty 30,252
Nicholas 30,165
The Music of The Spheres 30,063

Total All Six Books:



So, as you can see, I’m making serious progress. And for those who’ve grabbed the first three Jefferson’s Road books already, have no fear: the fourth will be out soon (likely end of the year, or early 2014).

And still… climbing!

Final post of the evening for The Spirit of Resistance.  The book is still climbing in the rankings without me doing a thing to promote it. Here are the latest stats from Amazon:

As you can see, we’ve put a serious dent in the rankings over all, let alone for the Action & Adventure and Political genres. As of this evening, I’ve also recorded my first follow up sales (or what I suspect are follow up sales) for both Patriots and Tyrants and The Tree of Liberty. I now show purchases both at Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. I’m confident Apple may have something to report as well, but they haven’t shown up just as yet.

The book, of course, is perma-free, so it will either climb or drop in the rankings on a day to day basis. I may, from time to time, give it a little boost through a facebook post on one of the many “Hey my book is free!” pages (and there are a ton of them!), but my main goal, of course, is to acquire people genuinely interested in the story (ie: readers, not just kindle stuffers), who will continue with it through the next five books in the series, which is why I have not done any real promotion other than to make the first book free. And yes, I will get my butt in gear and work hard on finishing book 4. I’ve passed 30K words now, so still not half done, but better than a third, at least.

For now, at least, it looks like the strategy is working. And that feels pretty darn good.

Still climbing…

It is now almost 5:30 pm EST. The Spirit of Resistance is still climbing in the rankings. Again, I’m doing no promotion (except mentioning it here, of course).

Here are the latest stats:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,014 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)

Anyone clicking on the links at the end will be taken to the “Top 100 Paid” sites. You’ll  have to select “Top 100 Free” right beside it to find my book in its respective categories.

I’m wondering if I can break the Top 10 in Action & Adventure.

Still climbing the rankings

Again, outside of the post I made yesterday, I’ve done no promotion or marketing for The Spirit of Resistance. I’ve only made it free on Amazon. As of 12:30 this afternoon, I am now #6 in Free Political Fiction and #3,721 in Free overall. See below:

Not too shabby, all things considered. I’m still hoping and praying that those who grab a copy and like it will pick up the rest of the series. And I’ll probably make some announcements on the free facebook sites I know of soon. But for now, it’s interesting to watch the returns.

The Spirit of Resistance is Free

Finally, I’ve managed to set The Spirit of Resistance as a permanently free e-book. If you haven’t had a chance to grab a copy, now you can! In the meantime, already today the book has risen to the top 13 in Men’s Adventure fiction and the top 20 in political fiction without me doing an ounce of marketing (including this here blog post. Go figure!)

Here’s the happy screen shots:

Top 13      Top 20


Now I hope that you’ll buy the next books in the series!

Off stride a bit…

I confess I’ve been off stride this past week. Fact is, after cranking out better than 42K the first two weeks of July, the last week has been an absolute bust. Less than 1300 words for the entire week!

In all fairness, it’s been a rather busy week at that. My Mom came up to visit us, and we’ve had some car repair issues on top of the kids needing to be ferried all over creation (okay, it’s mostly my wife who’s done that last bit – though I’ve done a little), and we’ve had get togethers on back to back Sundays. All of which conspires to almost nothing written. It’s going to take some effort to get back on track. The word counts I booked prior to this by going over my minimal word count of 2k won’t be enough to cover the loss of an entire week, so I’ll have to stretch to pull this off.

Which brings up what I think is the real culprit behind the word count fiasco. On at least two of my stories, I’ve felt the plot lines sorta getting away from me. And I’ve faced a set back on a third – meaning the heart of the story hasn’t even begun yet because I’m still dealing with leftover issues from the previous novel. It’s been a little disheartening. I suspect what I’ll have to do is sit down and outline these two books, see if I can’t get a handle on what’s supposed to happen so I can avoid any rabbit trails leading to rabbit holes.

On a side note, and perhaps related to the discouragement over all, is the realization that I haven’t approached my writing career as strategically as I ought to have. The prevailing wisdom is to write an individual series, and then release books in that series close together (like months, not years as in the traditional model) to avoid confusing the reader. Writing multiple series is all well and good, but typically this is done one at a time.

On the other hand, I can’t exactly back off on the books I currently have available to just concentrate on one series or another. Well, maybe I could, but I don’t think it would be beneficial overall.

Jefferson’s Road is the closest to being done series I have, so there’s no question I’ll keep writing that. My Janelle Becker books are the best selling series, so it makes sense to keep doing them as well. Given that Topheth has sold so little to this point, I suppose I could pull it down, rename it something more recognizable (I’m thinking of “Burning” or “The Burning”), and then sit on it until I’ve got at least two more Janelle stories ready to go.

Definitely can’t do that with the Jonathan Munro Adventures, so those books are off the table as far as this is concerned.

That leaves me also with the Dragon’s Eye Cycle – a different genre, admittedly, and the Spilled Milk books.  Would there be wisdom in pulling these books and then re-releasing them when I have the rest finished? I doubt it with Spilled Milk, but Eye of Darkness, possibly. I might consider changing the title, and then re-releasing it under a pseudonym, so that I don’t confuse readers with what Michael J. Scott writes. I haven’t sold so many that it’d make a huge dent in matters, so it’s something to consider.

Of course, Turning is still out there as well. I haven’t pushed this one at all, and there are far more to write. I could pull it and then finish more before resubmitting it.

But the real solution, I suspect, is to plan out an entire story arc for a series, write the books ahead of time, and then only release them one a month once they’re all finished, fully edited, and covers professionally done and consistent. I have two unfinished books that might serve toward that end, so I’m not exactly starting from scratch here. It will take some tweaking to make these two books – both stand alones – fit into a single series, but I believe I can pull it off.

So this will be the next strategy, even as I work on finishing the current series that I have. I’ll let you know if I decide to pull anything down and then release more strategically in the future.

Update on Turning and Other Works in Progress

Well, the good news is that I’ve finally got the edits from my girls for Turning, which means I can at last initiate the rewrites and final edits before releasing this book. We had a pretty good discussion about it this evening, going over the things they did like, didn’t like, and any suggestions they had. There’s a few minor tweaks I’ll be implementing starting tonight, not the least of which is reformatting the book from a 6×9 to a 5.5×8.5 cover size. My goal is to have the edits done and the book available by the end of the month. Okay, actually, it was to have the book available at the beginning of the month, but schooling got in the way (technically, it was Algebra that got in the way). The good news is that I should still be able to take advantage of the coupon I received from Createspace via NaNoWriMo for a free printing of five books–that’ll go a long way toward helping us locate more BETA readers, I expect.

In the meantime, I’ve been plugging away at the other six. I’ve got four of the six current WIP’s above 20K words. The other two are bumping their heads on it. I may decide to narrow the field a bit and give more attention to the books that I’m more productive on, but I haven’t done so just yet. I really like the idea of finishing six books together, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect that I’ll get all six done in a year’s time. Besides, I know that readers of Jefferson’s Road are chomping at the bit for the next installment, and I do want to get it out to you this year. I also have to give priority to Music of the Spheres. Even though Elixir of Life is due out in November, I kinda want to have the next book ready to hand over to Rochelle when that happens. That leaves me the opportunity to pick amongs the four remaining books for the two “most likely to succeed” (ie: get finished). I have to choose among Descent, A Glass Half-Empty, The Blood-Eater Coven, and Nicholas. And waiting in the wings, I have a Middle East thriller called Rock of Ages that has around 16K words or so (I think). That’ll certainly give me fodder for 2014.

I’ll let you know once Turning is ready to go. Later!

Back from Break, Hard at Work

Been a while since I put any posts up, and a friend recently queried as to what I’m working on. Granted, he’s primarily concerned with what happens to Peter in the next Jefferson’s Road book (don’tcha just love those cliffhanger endings?!), but it did put me in the mood of letting you all know what I’ve been doing in the past several weeks.

I brought my “hiatus” to an end around the beginning of February. It was a little difficult to get back into it. I found myself only able to generate a couple hundred words every few days at best. But I stuck at it, and around mid-February started tracking my progress again. Since then, I’ve been much more consistent in cranking out words, though you’ll note that I’m not working steadily on any one project.

No, in classic “Michael J. Scott” style (which is to say, utterly scatter-brained), I’m working on six different novels all at the same time. So here they are, with the word counts as of February 15th and the words generated since then:

In The
Widening Gyre
God And Country The Blood-Eater Coven The Music of
The Spheres
A Glass Half-Empty Nicholas
65,117 4,923 3,625 6,134 9,546 1,197 7,286 1,300 4,237 3,254 5,170 2,240

So you can see, all these books are getting at least a little love. I still need to do a little more on MOTS and BEC, just to bring them up to the 2K range, but I’ve made consistent progress over all. I’ve added almost 20K words in a month’s time. Not exactly as much as NaNoWriMo numbers, but fairly respectable nonetheless.

Dad wants me to hurry up and finish Gyre, and all I can say is that I am working on it. I’ve broken 70K words, and we’re nearing the climax of the tale. In the meantime, I also know that God And Country is a high priority, and so is MOTS, frankly. My second Jonathan Munro Adventure “The Elixir of Life” is coming out this summer. I’d like to have a manuscript to send to Rochelle before it comes time to put together 2014’s catalog. But I’m a long way from that, and the outline isn’t even finished.

Frankly, I don’t know to what degree a hiatus worked for me or not. I know I’m not “burned out” like I was, but I also noticed the struggle I had to restart after taking a month off. I’m starting to think that maintaining a regular pace would be better than burning the candle at both ends like I did. I guess we’ll see how it turns out this year. I do hope to get at least four of these books finished this year, if not all of them. And I’ll keep at it until they’re done.

Jefferson’s Road: The Tree of Liberty AND the coolest thing…

Two pretty cool things, actually. First is that the third mile (book) in the Jefferson’s Road series is now available in print and online. Jefferson’s Road: The Tree of Liberty is up at Amazon and Createspace. Like its predecessor, The Tree of Liberty takes up pretty much right where Patriots and Tyrants left off (so I do encourage you to read them in sequence!). I’ve asked a couple of you to be BETA readers for the book and write up reviews. If you have them ready, you can post them now or anytime (soon… please and thank you!) at your convenience. I hope you guys like the book and enjoy how the story is developing. God and Country is the fourth book. I haven’t quite started it yet, but I will begin it soon. I’m not making promises that it’ll be out this year, however. 2014 is more likely. Assuming the world hasn’t ended yet (we are in Mayan extra innings, after all).

Can you tell I’m jacked up on coffee right now?  All those parentheticals?

Okay, the second cool thing: I was at the library the other day with the guys I support, and while they were busily getting their movies and soda-pops from the machine, I was perusing the new fiction stacks at the front of the library. That’s when I saw it.

My book. The Lost Scrolls. Right there on the shelf at my own local library.

I didn’t donate the book myself, nor did anyone I know of. But there it was. That’s when it really hit home: I am a local author. I can actually say those words. Author. That’s me. Now, truth be told: I’ve been an author for some time, but I’ve been dreaming about it far longer, and just because you’ve got some books on the shelf with your name on them, or have sold some stuff online, it doesn’t quite compare to randomly stumbling across your own name on your own title in some place you didn’t expect to see it. It’s really an amazing feeling.

Now if I could just get them to start carrying the title at Wegman’s…