Edward Owen – Author

Monthly Archives: April 2013

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What Scares You?

NABP KC COVER Final lores

Cover for my short story collection to be released this fall.

Sorry for the delay on the post. It’s been one of those weeks.

Everybody’s afraid of something. Some fears are completely rational, like the fear of falling or drowning if you can’t swim. Even the fear of spiders, if you’re talking a black widow or brown recluse, things that can actually hurt you. Some fears are completely irrational, like the fear of flying. Statistics bear out the fact that flying is an infinitely safer way to travel than say driving, which most people do on a daily basis. This does not keep people from suffering from this fear, often to the point that it completely debilitates them. Then there are fears that go far beyond irrational like triskadecaphobia, the fear of the number thirteen. This is based on superstition, there is no scientific reason to be afraid of the number thirteen. There are other irrational fears that are often based on experiences like the fear of clowns. People who have had a bad experience as a young child will often carry this fear on into adulthood. Clowns are tall, gaudy, loud and potentially terrifying for small children. Clowns are about the most un-scary thing in the world for most people. They are silly, they are supposed to make you laugh and make you happy (unless they appear in a Stephen King story, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

In the horror genre, it’s our job to dig in and find those things that our readers are most afraid of. Some things are obvious, supernatural creatures like werewolves, vampires and zombies are inherently scary to human beings because in their world we are food. Sharks and grizzly bears fall into this category on the natural side. Things that can eat us naturally scare us. Horror authors induce fear by instilling a sense of dread in the reader. We put our readers into a situation where they would be suffering some type of harm if they were to actually experience it firsthand. It isn’t always physical; mental anguish can be just as intolerable as physical harm.

My personal scariest creatures are werewolves and sharks. ‘Jaws’ was the first non-kids movie I ever saw in the theater. I was twelve and I didn’t even want to swim in my pool. No other movie has ever scared me as much as than one did. Ever. Why? Sharks are real. Sharks that big are real. They don’t behave like ‘Bruce’ did (the name of mechanical shark used in the movie) but they do eat people. Oh, and so you don’t think ill of me, I did read the book as well. Some very big differences between the two, like Richard Dreyfus’s character Matt Hooper has an affair with Sheriff Brody’s wife (whoo hoo!) but then the shark eats him (bummer!) Sorry, no spoiler alerts on movies that are almost forty years old. (Yikes!) In second place: I watched ‘The Howling’ at a friend’s house when I was about nineteen, then walked home late at night in the fog. Yes, I was looking over my shoulder the entire time and if someone had jumped out of the bushes I would have peed myself no doubt. ‘American Werewolf in London’ came out the same year as ‘The Howling’ and it was a first date movie for me and a long time girlfriend. No problem getting her to cuddle in the theater, but it had as much humor as horror.

Horror books are a different animal altogether. Stories can elicit a much more intense response from me than movies as the action is going on in my mind. I write horror. I have a very good imagination. Sometimes better than the person who wrote the book. There is nothing an author can write that I cannot envision. I might respond with “Give me a break!” if the suspension of disbelief is stretched to the breaking point but the characters will still go through the motions. I hope this works as well for all of you. You know, my being an author and all…

I think the reason books always win over movies is the process of translating the words to images forces my mind to go places it might not otherwise go. In movies, the pictures are put there for us and sometimes they hold back just a little. My mind has no such limitations.

Fear is an emotional response to an environmental trigger. It is also a choice, regardless of what some people choose to believe. If you had no choice in your fears, if you were genetically predisposed to be afraid of say, spiders, there would be no way for you to conquer that fear, but people do it all the time. However, some of our fears are so deep rooted in our psyche that overcoming them is nearly impossible. They are tied into a survival mechanism and almost an instinct. They are what has kept our species alive for that last however many thousands of years.

As an author, I don’t have to tie in to the reader’s actual fear. I’m really not afraid of being eaten by a shark mostly because I don’t swim in the ocean. Not to mention that your chances of being attacked by a shark are about a hundred times less than being killed by lightning. And yep, I’ve been out in a number of thunderstorms. I’m certainly not afraid of being murdered by a serial killer and cut up in little pieces. So how do we, as authors, instill the proper emotion if we are not actually playing on the reader’s fear? The emotion we use is empathy. This holds true for all books. Very few people have had all the experiences about which they read and yet they share the experience with the characters who are going through the situation at hand. The readers simply put themselves in the character’s shoes (actually, we authors do that, you just aren’t aware it’s happening when we do it well). It works in other ways, too. Talk to the parent of a young child who has just watched a news story about a child abduction, or the recovery of a murdered child’s body. It doesn’t take much to put ourselves in the place of the victim. When it comes down to it, empathy is the strongest emotion an author can tie into. Most people don’t believe in vampires, werewolves, zombies, all the nasties that go bump in the night, but that doesn’t keep us from getting scared when we read about them. Empathy is the reason horror works regardless of the mechanism. We feel the pain of the author’s victims even though we have never shared their experiences and in the case of the supernatural, there’s no way we ever will. Empathy is what causes us to play ‘what if?’ games after we’ve read a really scary book that touched a nerve. There’s a little part of your mind that wants to know ‘what if that situation happened?’ and you end up sleeping with the lights on and a baseball bat next to your bed.

Scary stories have been around since people started telling stories. The Odyssey written by Homer (or somebody) over three thousand years ago is full of monsters and scary situations. Cyclops, Scilla and Charybdis, the Sirens and all sorts of nasty things bent on the hero’s destruction. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein almost a hundred years ago and Bram Stoker wroke Dracula shortly thereafter. H.P. Lovecraft wrote in the early twentieth century and Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ was published in 1975 (just in time to warp my young teen aged mind). Horror’s been around for a long time and it has had many faces, feels and looks. In my opinion, Hollywood has done horror a disservice with the slasher movies. Blood and gore for its own sake is simply cheap thrills in place of a good story. I think ‘Silence of the Lambs’ is one of the scariest movies ever made and there is very little blood in it. It’s your perception of the events that instills the fear and dread.

The next time you read a scary story that is so good you can’t put it down, and it scares you so badly that you have to sleep with the lights on and go into work with bags under your eyes, drop the author an email, give them a review on Amazon, Smashwords or Goodreads. As horror authors, that’s what we live for. Thanks for sticking around. I’m glad you are a horror fan. We are an odd lot, us readers of the dark prose. Those of us who write it are even stranger, but imagine how boring the world would be without us. Scary dreams.

Breaking the Indie Stigma

"Losing is not an option and winning holds a horror all its own."

“Losing is not an option and winning holds a horror all its own.”

Independent authors (Indies for short) have increased in number at an unprecedented pace in the last five years. This is due not only to the availability of low or no cost marketing sites but also the stories of Indie authors who have made obscene amounts of money selling ebooks online for ninety-nine cents. That phenomenon has pretty much run its course, but there are still plenty of Indies making a respectable amount of money by self publishing books. Unfortunately, the market has also been flooded with authors self publishing works that are, to be blunt, worthless crap. Yes, anyone who can string words together can technically write, but that does not mean what they produce is fit for consumption by the reading public. IMNSHO, bad writers fall into three categories.
First we have those who simply do not have the talent to to write well. Taking classes might make their writing passable for the garden club newsletter, but they just don’t have what it takes to be really good writers. It is a talent, after all and not in everyone’s genes.

Second type; lazy talent. This author has some chops, but they do not have their writing edited by someone who knows what they are doing. These authors do very little, if any self editing. (See my post on Indies and Editors here) Typos, poor grammar and overused adverbs make their manuscripts close to unreadable. Get a clue, get an editor… And a thesaurus.

The third kind of bad writer may also fall into either one of the other two categories; horribly boring subject matter. Unless you are a hundred years years old, or you’ve done something interesting, no one wants to read your memoirs. Unless you plan to sell it next to the sleeping aids, don’t waste your time and the reader’s. Editors can fix typos and grammar, but no one can fix boring. I will also lump into this group writers whose plots are tired, overdone and cliché. Lots of this in the horror and romance genres. (See this post on the subject)

So what do these writers have in common? They perpetuate the opinion that all Indie writers are talentless hacks. Not true, of course. Not all who self publish do so because they have no choice. Several successful mainstream authors have turned to self publishing to gain more creative control and make more money. That fact aside, there still exists a stigma attached to those lesser known authors that if they are self publishing, it is because no one else wants to publish them.

First; creative control; I could probably write a (boring) book on that subject, but I won’t. Writers know what I’m talking about, especially if they’ve been through the mill of working with a publisher. (I haven’t, but I’ve heard the stories.) Those who are non-writers will have to take my word for it.

So let’s look at the second reason, the money. The numbers I’m going to use are based on reports I’ve gotten from friends who have been published and are not based on mega successful authors like King, Patterson and Rowling. That’s lottery level success. I’m talking about folks who make twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year from publishing their books. Trust me, that’s not a lot of money considering the amount of work required. You could get rich faster becoming a fast food manager. Let’s look at the following:

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for a great breakdown. If you want to read the whole article, here is his blog: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/02/book-revenue-breakdown.html

 

Start with a $24.95 hardcover.

Discounts to booksellers vary, but for a rough estimate figure that the publisher receives around 50%.

Let’s say the author has a 10% retail royalty, and the author has an agent who receives 15% of the author’s share. This works out to (again, roughly):

$12.48 to the bookseller (50%)
$9.98 to the publisher (50% minus author/agent share)
$2.12 to the author (10% of retail minus 15%)
$0.38 to the agent (15% of 10%)

For another example, let’s take a $14.95 trade paperback where the author receives 7.5% retail. That translates to:

$7.48 to the bookseller
$5.83 to the publisher
$0.95 to the author
$0.17 to the agent

 

So we’re not really raking in the big bucks. Now look at Indie publishing. On an ebook, the up-front cost of publishing is zero, just the author’s time, unless they have to pay someone to format their book properly. I’m not including the cost of editing, as that is the same for both categories. If I sell one of my books on Amazon for $2.99, I get to keep 70%, or $2.10. More than twice what a publisher is going to give me for a book that is five times the price of my ebook. I already hear the arguments, but whether a book is read on an ereader or on paper, someone bought and read it. Even if I have my books printed, I still make more money per copy. Granted, publishers have the ability to distribute the book, and market the book, to a large audience, but will they? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on where the money is for them.

Before you start pounding the keyboard with dollar signs in your eyes, there is a caveat. You, the author, have to do all the work that the publisher and/or agent does. Marketing, setting up book signings, marketing, sending out emails, marketing, answering emails, marketing, setting up and doing blog hop tours, marketing, writing blogs (again, I don’t write blogs for therapy). Make no mistake, if you really want to have a profitable career in writing, it is pretty much a full time job. Hard for those of us who have to be away from home eleven hours a day to earn a living. But I’m still blogging, writing and all the other activities that go with the job. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I’ve been told if one keeps up the effort, it will happen. And then one day you get a check from Amazon that has four digits in front of decimal point. And you can do the happy dance all over the house. Hasn’t happened to me yet, but I did make almost a hundred dollars last year selling books mostly for ninety-nine cents, of which I get thirty-three cents. It’s a start, and it’s more books than I sold the year before (zero). It’s also way more than I would have made had I spent the year sending out query letters and waiting for someone to publish my book. Indie works for me.

Back to the stigma part. Do yourself and all of us a favor; if you write, don’t publish crap. I’m as guilty of this as anybody, but it’s a learning process. We need readers to believe in the Indie method. There are some very good writers who are out there doing the whole writing/marketing gig themselves, and doing it well. Hats off to them. Way to go. They are developing an audience and making all of us Indies look good. I’m doing my best to take the high road. I don’t rely on writing to earn a living (yet, good thing, it would be hard to write living in a cardboard box) but I plan to someday. As an Indie. Would I sell my book to a big publisher? Of course, if the price was right, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I’ll just keep writing and putting books up on the internet and telling people about them. And hiring editors and cover artists and eventually a publicist. That’s a topic for another blog. Thanks for hanging out. And thanks for reading Indie authors. Now go leave someone a great review on that book you read.

Twists, Cliffs and Surprises

Plot: several young women have gone missing. Turns out creepy old guy in the old house is a vampire. After he sucks the life out of a number of the God fearing townfolk, he is summarily dispatched by the sheriff and a cross wielding priest at high noon while sleeping in his casket. Wow, that plot has suckfest written all over it and I’m not talking about fangs piercing jugulars. It’s boring. Why? Because it’s been done to undeath. We see the end coming from a mile away Instead: young women missing. Everyone suspects creepy old guy. But wait; he shows up at the town council meeting at the same time another young woman is abducted. Vampire is the town librarian who killed old guy’s family. She is killed by an eleven year old boy with a slingshot and an old silver coin left to him by his grandfather. Turns out the librarian is his grandmother and as the story closes, a hot young woman in a red sports car rolls into town. She introduces herself to the young man at the gas station and her last name matches the late librarian’s. So ends book one of the Vamparian Chronicles. Maybe a bit more interesting? Not quite as cliche as the first story. Ok, maybe the blonde, but I have a thing for hot blondes; I’m married to one.

A couple solid plot twists; no way you saw the grandma angle coming and a cliff-hanger; hot blonde, related to recently killed vampire? Gotta see where that goes. When I was a DJ in another life, my trainer J.C. said, “Always tease ‘em, never please ‘em, keeps ‘em coming back.” She was a blonde, too and knew what she was talking about. Hook readers with inventive cliff hangers and keep them up at night, get them to buy the next book in the series and make them wonder what happens next.

People read books to be entertained, not bored by a tired, over written plot full of dull, uninteresting characters. The horror genre is full of stereotypes and cliches. As authors in any genre, it is our job and our duty to give readers storylines and characters that keep them guessing, pull them into the story and surprise them.

If you want an example of great plot twists, watch “Wild Things” with Denise Richards and Nev Cambell. Numerous twists and an ending that caught me completely by surprise. (I know it’s a movie, but someone wrote it). It also isn’t horror, but it is smoking hot, so watch it with your significant other. OK, back to my point. Toss your cliches out on their ears, smash your stereotypes and abandon old, tired plot lines. Our readers deserve better.

Indies and Editors

Indie authors are by necessity and definition, well, independent. Unfortunately, many of us (yes, I am including myself here) make the mistake of thinking we can do everything ourselves. One thing no author (Indie or traditionally published) can do is edit their own work. Oh, we can clean it up, catch most of the typos (not all, trust me) and rework that awkward piece of dialogue, but quality editing is beyond our abilities. We’re too close to the project to see it’s flaws. And there are always flaws. For a story to be its best, it needs one or more proof readers, beta readers and an editor who is brutal with her red pen (or doc comments as the case may be). A good editor can take your story from hobby schlock to professional status (assuming you have some skill as a writer and your editor is worth her red ink) and elevate your reputation from “Oh, he’s self published” to “You have GOT to read this book!”

Editing is a talent for which those who have it expect to get paid. Yep, you have to shell out money you haven’t even made (and may never make) to have someone point out your mistakes if you ever want to be taken seriously as an author (and get paid). There is no short cut for this step. Get recommendations and interview editors until you find one whose personality suits yours. Oh, make sure they are experienced and comfortable with your genre. I was fortunate to find my editor in my writers group. She has loads of experience with horror, is brutally honest and her office is just across town. We do most communications by email, but it’s nice to have a face to face once in a while. The quality of my writing has easily improved 100% with her help.

Catching typos and grammar mistakes is a small part of editing, actually that’s more the work of a proof reader. If you want to maximize your return for the dollars you are paying your editor, get someone to proof read your book for these types of mistakes. Beta readers are great for this and they are free. There are a number of websites where you can find these awesome folks. They will also point out other flaws in your work from a reader’s point of view. This is important. Readers are our audience. If it doesn’t make sense to them, we have not done our job to the best of our ability.

Once your manuscript has been through betas and proofreaders and anyone else whose opinion is worth considering, hand your baby over to your editor. If closing your eyes as you click ‘send’ helps, I understand. Hard to submit your ‘baby’ to that kind of abuse. Kind of like sending your six year old daughter to military school. In a third world country. Scary.

As hard as it is to do MORE work, I love getting notes from my editor. She is currently working on a set of six short stories to be published in the fall. “Nighmares and Body Parts, Vol. 1”. (What? You think I blog for therapy? It would take way more than this to do any real good.) Several of them were written more than five years ago and my writing has improved a great deal since then. It’s almost painful to read them, but they have good bones and they’re worth saving. So I’m rewriting… and rewriting… endlessly, it seems sometimes.

I view my editor as my coach. EVERY top athlete in the world, as well as musicians, actors and others who produce and entertain has a coach. (Stephen King edit his own work? I think not. He’s far too busy and smart to waste his time.) The coach is not a better athlete; they don’t have to be. They spot ways that those in their charge can improve their performance. How? They are on the outside looking in. They see things the athletes can’t see. Editors are just like that. They see where you can be better. They will see your faults, and tell you about them. In glorious detail with no hesitation at all. They make you do push ups, eliminate adverb use, and sit ups and eliminate filters (if you don’t know what a filter is, look it up, it’s important) run laps and bleachers and find better verbs, improve your dialogue and stop using cliché phrases because that will make you a better writer. If you’re smart, you will learn from every correction and continually improve.

Do I follow every single suggestion my editor makes? Nope. Sometimes she doesn’t get what I’m trying to do. That usually means I’ve left something out, but not always. It’s my book, I change only what makes sense to me. Which is pretty much 95% of the things she points out. Honestly, if you’re not going to take most of the suggestions and run with them, why hire an editor in the first place? Don’t waste your money and their time. And don’t expect to sell very many books. Oh, your Mom will buy it, maybe (mine won’t, she doesn’t like scary stories) and maybe some of your friends, but your ranking on Amazon and elsewhere will be a six digit number. I would rather have my royalty checks contain six digit numbers. I’m going to write anyway; it would be nice to get paid for my passion. So I’m reading blogs by people who know more than me, I belong to a great critique group, I review other authors’ works and I study my craft. And when all the words are finally on the page, I send it to my editor and start all over. Bottom line, you’ll hire an editor if you’re serious about writing. If you don’t, you’re not.