The ‘King’ of Tsongas Arena

A Conversation with Stephen King

By Timothy P. Flynn

On Friday, Dec. 7th, the streets of Lowell were packed with traffic all heading to a very special event at Tsongas Arena: A Conversation with Stephen King. The event was to mark the first for the Chancellor’s Speaker Series for the English Department at UMass Lowell. One of the esteemed faculty members, Andre Dubas III, acted as host/interviewer for the talk.

“It’s scary as shit in here!” was King’s first words to the audience resulting in an uproar of laughter. This was King’s first ever arena event, he stated, and the feel for the evening was established:  this was going to be a night to remember.  Dubas gave a rather lengthy introduction to the merits of King’s work and movie adaptations to which King cut him off saying, “You make it sound like I died!” When Dubas gave King the compliment of having doubled Charles Dickens in book sales, again King states, “They didn’t have e-books back then.”

The topics talked about included story ideas, aspects of the writing craft, and King’s rise to success. If you read any of the many King biographies out there, some of the more famous stories and anecdotes were brought up such as the origins of Cujo and how King states he never needed a psychiatrist because with all the crazy shit he makes up, people pay him. The funniest story was when King finally had a dinner with Bruce Springsteen at a restaurant in Pennslyvania, and a beautiful 16-year-old girl floated over to the table for an autograph with such excitement. “She didn’t even fucking look at Springsteen!”

Dubas read an extract from On Writing which was very moving having to do with the writing process and the will to continue writing. After Dubas’ reading, King read a brand new story, Afterlife, which was a story of a man who died from colon cancer and the events thereafter. The essence of the story was man’s fear of death, and if given a choice to start over again exactly the same versus blow out like a candle in the wind; most make the wrong choice.

The end of the night consisted of a Q and A session with about 10-15 questions asked. King added his usual wit and humor to his answers along with advice everyone in the room was listening to. A woman in the crowd brought a poster board picture of King at Fenway reading a book and her question was if King knew what book it was. Well, this slick creative woman got her poster board brought up to the stage for King to look at only to find a large sign in the back of it stating, “Sign Me!”- With roars from the crowd, King signed it.

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A group of Stephen King fans.

After the event was over, a bunch of us NEHW members met up at front to recall the night. We all went down the street to Lowell Beer Works for awhile to end the night. You can use your imagination on how the conversation went and topics discussed.

The event was a surreal, fantastic memory that I will forever cherish. I read King’s books, I created a challenge to myself via his On Writing memoir, I proposed to Barbara in front of his house in Bangor, Maine and now I was able to hear his talk and joke in the same room( very far away though). I am getting closer, maybe one day I can get that signature and that picture.

Marketing and E-Publishing Advice from the NEHW Co-Chair

If you don’t know how to publish your story or novel as an e-book on Barnes and Noble, NEHW Co-Chair Tracy L. Carbone has written a blog entry on her website explaining how she did it. You can read it here. At the moment, this is the first entry on her site so it is at the top of the page.

She also has another entry, “How to Waste Money on Marketing,” which you will have to scroll down the page to find. It’s worth the time to search for it. It will save you money.

Perfect Conditions

This entry came from NEHW member and author Bracken MacLeod’s website.

Perfect Conditions

by Bracken MacLeod

Recently Jonathan Franzen created quite a dust-up when he said that “the ‘impermanence’ of e-books is incompatible with enduring principles” (or something to that effect). I’ve already weighed in with my opinion of the Tastes Great/Less Filling debate when it comes to e-readers versus dead tree books and really am not interested in saying any more. However, Franzen did have something else to say which intrigued me enough to make further comment.

The acclaimed author … has said in the past that “it’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction”. He seals the ethernet port on his own computer to prevent him connecting to the internet while he writes, also removing the card so he is unable to play computer games and wearing noise-cancelling headphones to prevent distraction. [emphasis added] source

I admire the luxury of being able to drop out entirely and simply be in the work. In the past I had a similar attitude toward distraction. I used to only be able to create when conditions were just right (that’s what I told myself anyway). You get the idea–fussing about with ideal setting as a means of procrastination. Distractions outside (or inside) could derail me for minutes or hours. Not any more, however. I’m done with all that. And since I’ve gotten rid of the perfect setting nonsense I’ve been much more prolific.

I wish I could say that my rejection of the Goldilocks conditions (not too noisy, not too hot,1 just right) for creativity was borne of discipline and a desire to just sit down and do the work, no matter what. But if I am to be honest, it was my son’s doing. Since adding a baby (nearly a toddler) to my life, all I need to be creative is enough time to open Scrivener and start clacking keys (or outlining, or editing, or whatever). And that’s the last remaining luxury of the full-time parent/writer. Fuck feng shui! All I need is time.

At this moment, time seems ample compared to when I was lawyering, for instance. The kid sleeps a few hours a day (I know that’ll change, don’t bother commenting about it) and I work. The sounds of the city buses and the gas station outside don’t bother me (most of the time), I don’t need to find the perfect mood music–although it does help me with “flow”–and most of all, if I only get to write for ten or fifteen minutes at a time instead of several uninterrupted hours I still feel like that was a success. It’s unclear to me whether being a stay-at-home parent has fragmented my ability to focus or solidified it. All I know is that my first book took four years to write and my new one only took two and a half months.2

The change came easier than I expected mainly because I was forced into it. Now, the only precursor to work that I absolutely require is coffee. I still can’t write in a cafe, however. I’m too busy eavesdropping, listening for dialogue.

1 I like the cold. It feels like being alive, where sweltering heat just reminds me of being ill.

2 I attribute the improved quality of my work to taking classes at Grub Street in Boston as well as the fantastic help of my writing circle. The speed is all the boy, however.

New E-books from NEHW Members

In the last few weeks, members of the New England Horror Writers’  organization have published new stories in e-book form.

Author Tracy L. Carbone, editor of Epitaphs, recently released The Folks, her first venture into the e-book market place.

In The Folks, Valerie and her young daughter are relieved to stumble upon Hardscrabble Farm after their car gets a flat tire late at night. “The farm is surrounded by an army of scarecrows, but the warm safe house beckons to them.” Once arriving, “they discover that the horrible secrets kept by the farm’s owner Clara Rantoul are far more sinister than they could have imagined.”

Her second offering, One Minute, is a Twilight Zone-esque tale about three people in a love triangle discovering “the cruel irony that all life can change in just one minute.”

Her current offering is Pretty Pig Let Me In, which tells the story of Paula, whose “gluttony has always served her well, has driven her hunger for success and wealth. But when she sets her sights on winning over a rich man, ‘be careful what you wish for’ takes on a gruesome new meaning.”

Paula’s gluttony has always served her well, has driven her hunger for success and wealth. But when she sets her sites on winning over a rich man, “be careful what you wish” for takes on a gruesome new meaning.

Carbone hopes to have a large collection of stories and a couple of novels available on Amazon in the coming months.

According to the description on Amazon, Mark Edward Hall’s Apocalypse Island is about young women being stalked and slaughtered in Portland and how Danny Wolf is witnessing these crimes in his dreams. “Wolf, a gifted musician and newly released from prison, has no memory of his early childhood, but discovers that he spent his first eight years in a Catholic orphanage on a mysterious island off the coast of Maine. Soon the killings become more bold and gruesome, as members of the church begin to die. Enter Police Lieutenant Rick Jennings and his young assistant Laura Higgins. They discover a government conspiracy involving the Catholic Church, and a cold war mind control program known as MK-Ultra. Danny Wolf becomes the number one suspect in the murders, but no one, not even Wolf, is prepared for what they discover on Apocalypse Island, a mind blowing secret that was supposed to stay hidden forever.”

Hall also released Feast of Fear, which contains four horrifying tales and the first four chapters of his upcoming novel, Soul Thief.

John Grover’s Echo Lake-A Short Story is a sample of his work.  Amazon’s description said, “Ryan didn’t know why he’d come back. He just had to see it one more time. Echo Lake waited for him, looking exactly the same after all these years. The tragedy that happened there was still alive and well in Ryan’s mind. His little sister drowned in that damned lake. She was not the first, probably wouldn’t be the last. He’d come back because of her, because of that day. See, there was something else there. Something in the lake. Something in the water. He couldn’t see it. He couldn’t hear it but Ryan knew. The drowning was no accident. Something took her.”

The Self-epublishing Bubble

This article originally appeared on the Guardian website.

The self-epublishing bubble

In August 2011,  Ewan Morrison published an article entitled Are Books Dead and Can Authors Survive?. Here, he tracks the self-epublishing euphoria of the last five months and argues that we are at the start of an epublishing bubble

by Ewan Morrison

The internet is full of ironies. I, for one, could never have guessed that writing about the end of books would generate more income for me than actually publishing the damn things. I’ve been on an End of Books reading tour since August and it turns out that what the internet gurus say about consumers being more willing to pay for events, speeches and gigs, rather than buying cultural objects, is now becoming true.

At the other end of the political spectrum from me, among the epublishing enthusiasts and digital fundamentalists, similar ironies are playing out: there is now a boom industry in “How to get rich writing e-books” manuals, as well as a multitude of blogs offering tips and services, and a new breed of specialists who’ll charge you anything from $37 to $149 to get your e-book into shape.

This all seems like a repeat of the boom in get-rich-quick manuals and “specialists” that appeared around blogs and e-trading. Did anyone actually get rich from writing blogs, you may ask? Well, according to Jaron Lanier (author of You are not a Gadget) there are only a handful of people in the world who can prove that they make a living from blogging: it’s entirely possible that more money was made by those who wrote and sold the how-to manuals than by the bloggers themselves. But who cares, right? It’s all part of the euphoria of digital change, and technological innovation is as unstoppable a force as fate. Reports show that paper book sales are “tanking” – down a massive 54.3% while e-book sales are up triumphantly by 138%. The revolution will be e-published, and we’re all going to be part of it.

All of this e-book talk is becoming a business in itself. Money is being made out of thin air in this strange new speculative meta-practice: there are seminars, conferences and courses springing up everywhere, even at the Society of Authors (a writers’ union which, until recently, was largely against e-publication). Television and radio programmes are being made about self-epublishing (I’ve personally been asked to speak about it on 12 occasions since August). Everyone can be a writer now: it only takes 10 minutes to upload your own e-book, and according to the New York Times “81% of people feel they have a book in them … And should write it”

But all of this gives me an alarming sense of deja vu. There’s another name for what happens when people start to make money out of speculation and hype: it’s called a bubble. Like the dotcom bubble, the commercial real estate bubble, the subprime mortgage bubble, the credit bubble and the derivative trading bubble before it, the DIY epublishing bubble is inflating around us. Each of those other bubbles also  saw, in their earliest stages, a great deal of fuss made over a “new” phenomenon, which was then over-hyped and over-leveraged. But speculation, as we’ve learned at our peril, is a very dangerous foundation for any business. And when the e-pub bubble bursts, as all previous bubbles have done, the fall-out for publishing and writing may be even harder to repair than it is proving to be in the fields of mortgages, derivatives and personal debt. Because this bubble is based on cultural, not purely economic, grounds.

How do we know if we’re in a bubble?

To answer that we have to turn to respected economist Hyman Minsky. Minsky (1919-1996) studied recurring instability in markets and developed the idea that there are seven stages in any economic bubble (the following terminology is adapted from his Financial Instability Hypothesis [PDF]):

Stage One – Disturbance

Every financial bubble begins with a disturbance. It could be the invention of a new technology; it may be a shift in laws or economic policy, or a reduction in interest rates or prices, or the expansion of a market into an area that has not been open before. Usually several factors come together to make the change – and as a result, one sector of the economy goes through a dramatic transformation.

This has certainly occurred with epublishing. Over the last decade, Amazon has undercut the big global publishing houses through a radical new structural approach to storage and distribution and grown so quickly that it forced them to renegotiate their pricing policies. Then in opening up the long tail market and making hundreds of thousands of lost titles available again for resale, it reinvented bookselling. The creation of Kindle led to a new generation of e-readers which, with Apple, launched an economic boom in a previously non-existent market. It has already become a cliché in all media that digital self-publishing is a revolution comparable to the invention of the printing press. That is a lot of disturbance in a short space of time.

Stage Two – Expansion/Prices Start to Increase

Following the disturbance, prices in that sector start to rise. Initially, the increase is barely noticed. Usually, these higher prices reflect some underlying improvement in fundamentals. As the price increases gain momentum, more people start to notice. Speculation thrives.

On first inspection, e-publishing doesn’t appear to fit the model here, as it’s clear that the prices of ebooks are falling drastically (in the week of Jan 1, 28% of the top 100 e-books on Amazon were 99p or under, and 48% were under £2.99). But that’s because we’re looking at this the wrong way round – from the perspective of the consumer. The e-book explosion is coupled with the rise of the e-reader, and the profits there are in the hands of the manufacturers. There has also been a fast turn around in these new technologies from Kindle to Kindle Fire, from iPad to iPad 2; and a brand new market of consumers for these products has appeared from nowhere. The change to cheap ebooks and self-published ebooks is a “change in underlying fundamentals”.

Stage Three – Euphoria/Easy Credit

1. Increasing prices/sales do not, by themselves, create a bubble. Every financial bubble needs fuel; cheap and easy credit is that fuel. Without it, there can be no speculation and the sector returns to a normal state. Speculation takes over and there is a rush to “get in” as newcomers become involved “cheaply” 2. When a bubble starts, the sector involved pushes stories into the media,  and is suddenly inundated by outsiders; people who normally would not be there.

1. “Easy credit” in this case relates to the plummeting costs of digital content. In fact, there is an inverse correlation between the cheapness of digital content and the high cost of e-readers and smart technology. The more ‘free’ or nearly-free content is available online, the more appealing expensive e-reader and iPad technologies have become. Furthermore, “cheaply” here refers to the ease with which someone can now self publish. A decade ago, self publishing could costs thousands of pounds for a mere 100-book print run. Now it is free or almost free.

2. The whole point of self-epublishing is that the market “brings in people who would not normally be there”. Like the promise that we can all have an affordable home with a cheap mortgage, we are being told constantly by digital businesses and the media that we can all be writers and even be successful as writers. Even the tabloids are generating hype, telling the masses that they each can make millions through self-epublishing.  The more traffic there is in self-epublishing the more the hype has ‘evidence’ to support it. According to USA today, it’s a gold rush…get out there”.

Stage Four – Over-trading/Prices Reach a Peak

1. As the effects of cheap and easy credit dig deeper, the market begins to accelerate. Overtrading lifts up volumes and spot shortages emerge. Prices start to zoom, and easy profits are made. This brings in more outsiders, and prices run out of control. 2. This is the point that amateurs – the foolish, the greedy, and the desperate – enter the market. Just as a fire is fed by more fuel, a financial bubble needs a mass of people involved in mass behaviour to fuel it.

1. Since epublishing started, the race to undercut competitors has accelerated at unforeseen speed. Blogs now give advice to start-up writers, telling them to give their work away for free to gain audience share and get reviews, and only then attempt  to raise their prices. The zooming prices here refers to the zooming down of prices. For example self-epublishers are now giving books away for free – see the Kindle Top 100 Free books. Furthermore, in this ecstatic push to self-epublish, there are hundreds of thousands of new ebooks for which there are almost no readers at all because they have zero visibility.

2. Over the last six months there has been a huge growth in the number of people with no former experience who have entered self-epublishing. Taking myself as a representative slice of the public, I can attest, from recent personal experience, to the following: People I know who have been rejected by mainstream publishers have brought out their first ebooks on Kindle; people I didn’t even know had novels under their beds have done the same; friends of friends on Facebook have announced that they too have novels and short stories available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad and Sony Reader. Locally, I have seen two new digital publishing houses born from nothing and paying no advances, operating on “spec” writing. And all of these people are self-promoting their work on what platforms they have: Twitter, Facebook and their blogs. All of this is evidence of a “desperation to enter the market”. I know this because I also felt the pressure to try it (and did: I self re-epublished what was my first book).

People who are self-epublishing for the first time are also buying their first iPads and Kindles, so as to better understand the e-pub technologies and to further promote their ebooks. They may be giving their ebooks away for free but they’re spending between £100-400 on single items of new technology – more than they ever actually spent on books in a year.

Stage Five – Market Reversal/Insider Profit Taking

Warnings sound that the boom will turn to bust; that the models on which success is based are unrealistic and overblown. These arguments are ignored by those who justify the now insane prices with the euphoric claim that the world has fundamentally changed and cannot change back. The fact is that insiders have been pulling the strings all along, capitalising on the hype created by the ill-informed newcomers to the market. 

The model of e-book success that’s held up for everyone to copy is based on half-truths. Even those who are seen as e-book stars are actually transitional figures straddling the digital self-publishing and the mainstream camps.

Take for example digital guru, free culture activist (former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and author Cory Doctorow – an SF celebrity and aggressive exponent of self-epublishing who gives his books away for free under a creative commons license (with optional payment). It turns out that Doctorow isn’t just any old novelist: the subjects he and his characters talk about are file sharing, the digital revolution, digital rights management and the oppressive old gatekeepers of the mainstream. His kudos comes from the fact that we are in a transitional period in which “free digital culture” is still an issue. Ironically, if and when self-epublishing becomes the norm, his subject matter will no longer seem so radical and no doubt his reader base will diminish.

Or take Amanda Hocking, the paradigmatic example of epublishing success, who has made $2.5m from selling her own ebook. Hocking writes about the supernatural and teenagers, and her success is due in no small part to what the industry calls “piggybacking” on a mainstream success. Without Twilight, and the popularisation of the teen-romantic-horror genre,  it is doubtful that Hocking would have a foothold in the industry, or that many people beyond her internet friends would have bought My Blood Approves (retailing at £0.72 on Amazon).

The models of Doctorow or Hocking are misleading to say the least. For the hundreds of thousands of newcomers to self-epublishing to believe that they can become as successful as these role models is a dangerous delusion, and one capitalised on by companies who have an interest in maximizing internet traffic and selling e-readers and internet advertising.

The crisis that’s looming is that while the price of e-books is pushed to almost zero by the rush of frantic amateur self-publishing activity, the established publishing businesses will be forced into life-saving cost-cutting.  Again, this is something from which those who have an interest in maximizing internet traffic and selling e-readers and internet advertising will benefit. For a while, all those new Kindle owners will find it liberating to see the prices of all e-books fall, allowing them to vastly expand their libraries, while at the same time, paradoxically, they will wait anxiously for someone to buy their own literary e-offerings online.

Stage Six – Financial Crisis

Just as the euphoria consumes the outsiders, the insiders see the warning signs, lose their faith and begin to sneak out the exit. Whether the outsiders see the insiders leave or not, insider profit-taking signals the beginning of the end.

Already the stars of self-epublishing are leaving the system that launched them. Hocking signed a deal with Macmillan that gave her a $500,000 advance on four separate books in a series – a total reversal from the way self publishing is done (with zero advances being paid and all work being done on “spec”). The self-epublished author has left the glass-ceiling world of .79 cents e-book sales (to embrace the old mainstream model, believing that it is the only system that can elevate her to a higher profile and bring her into an arena where her books can by “synergised” with tie-in products such as films, TV serials, even toys) and the door of opportunity closes behind her as she exits, leaving hundreds of thousands of self-epublishing authors without a model to aspire to.

Meanwhile the mainstream publishing houses have suffered huge losses and now can only publish authors who seem to offer a guaranteed return.  The entire field of publishing has shrunk, beneath what seemed on the surface like an infinite expansion. Publishers have been forced to launch their own e-publishing sites in the attempt to join in the bubble and gain kudos, but they are too late and are wasting resources, and further undermine their old status as market leaders. They in fact turn to the new model of the self-epublishing “star” to get them out of the doldrums. This is the point at which self-epublishing becomes a hall of mirrors and speculation runs in circles.

And what has happened to all those new authors who were told they could make money from e-publishing? Well, they are working entirely for free (on spec) on the promise of those big 70% royalties on future sales. They write their books, they blog, they net-network and self-promote; they could put in as much as a year’s work, all without payment. So much writing-for-free is going on that it upsets the previous paradigm: people start to ask, why should any writers get paid at all? Why should “professional” writers get a wage or advance, when I’ve had to do all this work on my self-published e-book for free?

And then comes the collapse – if you work for free and have to slash your costs to be competitive – to, say, undercut the vast 99p market by going down to 45p or 15p – then your chances of ever seeing a return on all the free labour you’ve put in diminish accordingly. Add to this the fact that hundreds of thousands of others are competing with you in this pricing race to the bottom and the possibility of any newcomers making any money from self-epublishing vanishes. The bubble bursts.

Stage seven – Revulsion/Lender of Last Resort

Panic starts and euphoria is replaced with revulsion. Outsiders start to sell, but there are no buyers. Panic sets in, prices start to tumble downwards, credit dries up, and losses start to accumulate. The market is forced back to pre-bubble levels, with major destruction to its infrastructure. The “Lender of the Last Resort” may step in to save what is left.

1. After a long year of trying to sell self-epublished books, attempting to self-promote on all available networking sites, and realising that they have been in competition with hundreds of thousands of newcomers just like them, the vast majority of the newly self-epublished authors discover that they have sold less than 100 books each. They then discover that this was in fact the business model of Amazon and other e-pub platforms in the first place: a model called “the long tail”. With five million new self-publishing authors selling 100 books each, Amazon has shifted 500m units. While each author – since they had to cut costs to 99p – has made only £99 after a year’s work. Disillusionment sets in as they realise that they were sold an idea of success which could, by definition, not possibly be extended to all who were willing to take part.

The now ex-self-epublished authors decide not to publish again (it was a strain anyway, and it was made harder by the fact that they weren’t paid for their work and had to work after hours while doing another job – and they realised that self-promoting online would have to be a full-time job.) They come to see self-epublishing as a kind of Ponzi scheme – one created by digital companies to prey on the desires of an expanding mass of consumers who also wanted to be believe they could be “creative”. They also become disillusioned with their e-readers, which are now out of date anyway. And so they return to the mainstream publishers to look for culture. Unfortunately, as a result of the e-book market implosion it is impossible for publishers to push their prices back up to pre-bubble levels (from 99p to £12.99), and so their infrastructure continues to decline. And since they have decided to look for new talent in self-epublishing, they are trapped in the very same bubble that everyone else is trying to get out of.

2. The “Lender in the Last Resort” cannot really step in to save the “investors”, as these are the hundreds of thousands of hopeful and now-disappointed first-time e-publishers. Instead, the government (if we’re lucky) steps in to bail out the publishing industry, and to regulate the digital companies that created the bubble in the first place. Or the government could continue to subsidise these companies, as it does just now, and in so doing create the next bubble.

Of course, none of this might come to pass. Perhaps self-epublishing wont take off, and perhaps people will continue to pay more than 99p for ebooks and paper books. And perhaps hundreds of thousands of new writers will actually taste success. But this, again, is mere speculation.

The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age

This blog post, “The Indie Bookstore in the Amazon Age,” originally appeared on the An American Editor website.

All the news that is fit to print about indie bookstores can generally be summarized this way: they are closing faster than a shark feeding frenzy. Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but the demise of the indie bookstore is on everyone’s lips.

The questions are why are they dying out and what can be done to halt their death march? As to why, I don’t think we need spend much time on the question. Fewer Americans want to either pay more for local availability or want to patronize a local bookstore. What they are becoming accustomed to is huge selection and lower pricing without leaving home — the online bookseller. Another problem for indies is the trend toward ebooks. Their online competitors have them and they do not, or if they do have them, they are not as cheaply priced as their online competitors. It is just a matter of economics.

I grant, however, that the loss of indie bookstores is another nail in the coffin of Americana. It is pretty difficult to call Amazon on the telephone and discuss the merits/demerits of a book selection with a knowledgeable bookseller. But Amazon is doing to the indie bookstores what Walmart did to mom-and-pop Main Street, and while many of us lament the demise of mom-and-pop Main Street, we are also the first to shop online and the last to buy on Main Street.

Yet indie bookstores can and should fight back. Although books are entertainment — few people would call a Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh book an educational bromide — they are also the source of knowledge and we continue to need help in picking through the detritus for the gem.

I have been thinking about what indie bookstores can do to fight back. I’m not sure they can ever compete on price unless book publishers, especially the Agency 6, are willing to give special help, but there are things that they can do.

First, if your local pizzeria can offer free delivery, why can’t your local indie store — or if there is more than one local indie store, why can’t they band together to offer free local delivery? Amazon’s delivery is quick but indie delivery could be quicker, and we all know how unwilling we are to wait. This seems a minor customer service that could quickly and inexpensively be implemented.

Second, consider making the local populace a partner in the store. If the store is not already a corporation, make it one. Then create a nonvoting class of stock, a preferred stock, that entitle the owner to share in dividends on a preferential basis. Give 1 share of stock for every $250 in purchases (the dollar amount could be higher or lower). Give the local book-buying public a direct stake in your success. Think about parents who would see this as a good way to introduce their children to capitalism and stock ownership.

Third, create a special members-only club. Amazon tries to do this with its Prime and Barnes & Noble with its membership, and even some indies have their clubs — but none of them are really special. What is so special about Amazon’s Prime? Nothing. Make this club special. Club members with young children can use the premises for birthday party with the bookstore staff doing the work; major holidays have special get-togethers; have a biweekly restaurant-of-the-month get-together for adult members where they come to the store and for a steep discount are cooked a special meal by a local restaurant and get to learn how to make the dishes as well as eat them; have audience participation mystery plays bimonthly. The ideas are almost endless. The point is, make the membership more than a discount membership; make it something to look forward to and you can even theme the parties around certain books.

Fourth, come to an arrangement with other local indies whereby if someone is looking for a particular book and you do not have it in stock but your competitor does, your competitor will give you the book so you can make the sale subject to a small fee and your ordering a replacement. This will expand your inventory.

Fifth, make it a point for you and your staff to comb places like Smashwords for indie authors who are self-publishing. When you find a good one, contact the author and see if you can’t cut a deal with the author to write a book that will only be available to indie bookstores, that you can use to draw people in. This is more difficult to do than the other ideas but if you can create a catalog of indie books that are available only through indie stores, you are at least fighting back against Amazon exclusivity.

Sixth, as part of finding indie authors, you need to figure out a way to offer ebooks and print-on-demand pbooks for those who only buy one or the other format. The Espresso machine is expensive, but why not join with several other indies to buy one that you can share? Or why not talk to a local print shop and see if you can work something out with them.

Seventh, create an Indie Book Mall where several indie bookstores can share the space. This type of arrangement is often done by antiques and collectibles dealers and I see no reason why it couldn’t be done by indie bookstores. It would create a shopping “destination,” which seems to be something consumers like. Some of the advantages to doing this include the ability to share fixed expenses (e.g., rent, heat, electric) and it would allow each indie to have an area of concentration rather than be required to have such a general focus that each is a full replica of any other. It would also facilitate some of the earler suggestions. Additionally, this is the kind of project that would fit right in with Main Street renewal projects and could enable a group purchase of the real estate or low rent from cities trying to draw busiensses and people back to the Main Street. Something like this could also be done in conjunction with a struggling local library system, something I proposed nearly 2 years ago in A Modest Proposal V: Libraries & Indies in the eBook Age.

I’m sure that others can add to this list, but it is clear to me that indie bookstores can fight back. Imagination and effort are the keys. The Internet Age has isolated more of us; we tend to do less socialization because we are working by ourselves. The indie bookstore could become our new socialization venue with some effort.

At least it is something to think about.

Professor Writes about E-books and Short Fiction

This article originally appeared on the website, http://www.40kbooks.com/. Professor and author Daniel Pearlman is the writer of this article and is a new member of the New England Horrror Writers’ organization.

The e-book is the latest and best hope for the commercial viability of short fiction by Daniel Pearlman

Daniel Pearlman

“Daniel Pearlman‘s writing presents us with a rare multiplicity of unique voices. His unforgettable characters continue to whisper in the reader’s ear long after the final page is turned,” said Paul Di Filippo.

Novels can have pauses, faults: a long story wins by points. A novelette, as Julio Cortazar wrote, needs to win by knock-out. Do you agree?

I generally agree. Few readers read novels with the expectation that a dramatic climax will repay them for the time, often portioned out over several days, they invest in reading them. Readers of novels expect to be “repaid” continuously, with several dramatic high points making the long haul worth it–each such high point followed by the “pause” you mention, though I don’t see why your question seems to equate “pauses” with “faults,” like passages that are boring. Pauses should simply be the re-commencement of the narration at a necessarily slower pace if the novel is to build up toward a new high point. In contrast, the shorter form is naturally designed to build up to the one high point only, Poe’s “single effect,” the knock-out Cortazar mentions–and that takes special dramatic skill, a ruthless focus of attention, that many writers, known primarily as novelists, do not have the capacity for, or the interest in, pursuing. Many novels succeed without a knockout ending, but a short story simply fails of its purpose without one.

Is there a literary bias against the short form of fiction?

There may be a market bias. Short stories of literary merit demand a great deal more of mental focus on the part of the reader than do most novels. Novels draw the reader into a narrative dream that relaxes the intellectually critical faculties. Reading a short story demands constantly being on the alert for the “point.” Reading a novel relieves you of that tension until perhaps you reach the ending. Reading a short story also demands close attention to language–to metaphor, irony, etc.–the kind of attention to language that you would give to poetry. Few novels demand such attention.

In any case, I don’t see any “literary” bias against short fiction. On the contrary, the classics of short fiction receive enormous literary-critical attention. Unfortunately, the market tells us that novels sell well compared to collections of short fiction. My hope is that someday, perhaps via the e-book, writers of excellent literary short fiction will be able to make nearly as good a living as do many writers of merely mediocre novels. Nowadays writers of excellent short fiction are taught to think that short forms are merely exercises preceding truly meaningful accomplishment by way of novels. How many writers have been warped, I wonder, by such market prejudices?

Plot, setting, ideas. What are in your opinion the perfect ingredients of a novelette/novella?

The novella is a really tough form to do well. You don’t have the leisure, as writer, to develop sub-plots and more than one or two main characters, and yet the reader demands a sense of fullness in the development of the main characters and setting, so that the novella has to provide some of the primary rewards of reading a novel–and still provide the climactic “single effect” demanded of the shorter form. It’s too bad that market conditions discourage the production of novellas, but I hope that the rising popularity of e-books will create a greater opportunity for their publication. The e-book is the latest and best hope for the commercial viability of short fiction.

Would you suggest 3 must-read novelettes/novellas?

There are just too many to choose from. But what jump out at me right away are Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.”