On the Shelf: Green Witchery

It all started innocently enough. I needed an herb to be added to a brewing process so that my werewolves could get drunk. Seriously. I was thinking about them, and how it would be kind of sad to be a generations-old pack of beer brewers who couldn’t enjoy the effects of their own wares. So that started me down a rabbit hole of gardening and herbs and lore and eventually led to me joining three witchcraft groups on Facebook, plus reading down the rabbit hole of kitchen and green witchery (the latter which was something I didn’t even know existed two weeks ago.) Luckily, there were stops along this rabbit hole all over Kindle Unlimited, and so I happily settled in, reading along, and getting gardening tips, some meditation ideas, and yes, finding just the right herb for a werewolf’s home brew.

First up, The Green Witch, by Arin Murphy-Hiscock. I think this book appealed to me because a.) it connected with me on a visceral “I like shiny rocks and plants” level, and didn’t judge me at all, and b.) it was well-organized, clearly written, and encompassed a wide range of practitioners. Murphy-Hiscock was clear that each witch practices how/where they feel comfortable, and so I didn’t feel like the book was trying to convince me to move to a shack in the woods and live off the grid (I like my computer and Kindle reader). The book did give me some ideas for the indoor plants I’ve been purchasing, as well as the indoor seeds that I started about a week ago. One of the ideas is to keep a journal as a way of tracking what you did and how it worked out. Another idea is meditation and focusing on intentions (using the aforementioned shiny rocks.) Finally, the book dovetailed nicely with another interest I have, namely herbalism, and gave me some ideas about making some sugar scrubs, lotions, and soaps.

Arin Murphy-Hiscock wrote a number of books, including The Green Witch’s Grimoire and Protection Spells, both available in KU. These two are characterized by her wry sense of humor, clear organization, well-laid-out contents, and the feeling that the content is there for those who are seeking it, but it’s not going to try to convince you to approach it one way or the other. As I read, again, I find some ideas that even a rather mundane, non-witch such as myself could find useful. And, one of the characters in a project I’m working on is starting to become clearer and clearer in my mind as I read, so I think this particular reading week is trying to tell me something.

Unfortunately, I’m way behind in my Goodreads reading challenge, so this next week, I may indulge in some horror novellas or urban fantasy series novels. We’ll see. In the meantime, I enjoyed these books and will likely keep them on my Kindle shelf.

As for which herb Rick Keller is going to add to his next batch of kolsch, well … you’ll see!

Peace and happy reading.

Posted in Reading Project | Tagged | Leave a comment

On the Shelf: Down a (Grim)Dark Alley

I won’t lie, it’s been a rough week (fortnight? Month? Year? Take a pick.) Right before Christmas, we had a plague scare with my youngest, Baby Bug. Luckily, she was negative, but she was still pretty sick, and of course there wasn’t any room at any urgent care anywhere. We came back, school started up, and she ended up catching it from her preschool. Luckily, Baby Bug is back to her normal, health, stinker self and is currently with her sister playing Encanto songs on repeat in the kitchen. But we’re not going to talk about … you know. YOU KNOW…

On the other hand, I’ve been able to get some reading done, and really enjoying the reading I’ve been doing. I’ve been diving down the dark fantasy rabbit hole, immersing myself in grim settings and antiheroes. If you’ve got a penchant for dirty deeds and dirty … well, people who live in a storage unit, you really should check out The Jubal County Saga by Bob McGough. It starts with Bringing Home the Rain, and the third book comes out today (and as soon as I finish posting this, I will be reading it from cover to cover on Kindle Unlimited.) The stories follow Howard Marsh, a “Methgician” — and no, I didn’t come up with that term and yes, it means exactly what you think it means. He’s a scruffy, down-on-his-luck addict who lives in a storage unit, next door to an attorney who also lives in the storage complex. The novels take place in a rural Mississippi county, where strange happenings occur and everyone knows to stay on Howard’s Granny’s good side or get hexed. His goals are pretty simple – make enough money to get high, find some female companionship, and stay off Granny’s radar. But underneath it, he can’t help the fact that he is a good man who has gone through some hard times. McGough is an excellent writer, and I am looking forward to diving into the further adventures of Mr. Howard Marsh.

Next on the shelf, I’m making my way through They Once Had Names (The Giftborn Chronicles, Book 2), by Drew Bailey. In the opening of the second book of The Giftborn Chronicles, a character uses the phrase “silver spoon cunt” as an expression of affection and then plunders the corpse of the first book’s antagonist for blood to save said Silver Spoon’s life. And that is why I haven’t been able to stop reading Drew Bailey’s second novel-length foray into grimdark. I picked up his first book, The Royal Nothings, based on the description “The Walking Dead meets Game of Thrones,” and to be honest, I am not the biggest fan of either of those, although I really enjoy zombie books and grimdark action adventure and actually enjoyed this series more than either of them. However, if you do happen to be a fan, and you wish there were more books like them, then you need to grab these right now. (Bonus — they are available on Kindle Unlimited!)

So, what’s to like, other than Drew Bailey’s really colorful way with words? I’ll start with the zombies. They are not your typical living dead, but they are both true to the traditions of the creature as well as a new way of portraying them. I’m not someone who normally gets scared at zombie creature features, but these scenes had me speed reading through them, unable to put them down. Next up — the characters. Not a single one without flaws, but also, most with some redeeming quality that gets their hooks into the reader and gets you caring about what actually happens to them. If you happen to enjoy complex, forthright, flawed women (which, surprise, I do), then you will find several in these pages. Wish you could read some grimdark that actually portrays queer characters outside of the “kill your gays” trope? Yep. Here you go. The plot was complicated but fast, and moves the reader along quickly, but still knows when to let them catch their breath. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I will say that if you are looking for a new series that scratches the grimdark itch, then you’ll do yourself a favor by giving Bailey’s series a chance!

Anyway, that’s what’s on the reading deck for this week. I’ve also got some nonfiction going, mostly research into herbalism and green magick for a story I’m writing, but I’ll post about those next week. What are y’all reading?

Posted in On the Shelf, Reading Project | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

On the Shelf: Back On the Shelf

It’s been a minute since I posted one of these, and as I get back into the swing of writing and working and sharing what I’ve been reading, I wanted to post my long-delayed 2021 reading retrospective.

First, I managed to meet my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge. I set a goal of reading 150 books, and scooted over the finish line with about 20 hours to spare. I thought I’d built up a bit of a cushion, but when I reviewed the list, it turned out that I had somehow recorded three or four books twice. The list of books from the last week of 2021 includes a bunch of novellas and a couple of books I wasn’t planning on finishing, but decided to gut out the last half or quarter to meet the goal. Overall, though, I really enjoyed most of the books I read, and all that reading spurred good, creative things to happen with my writing.

In 2022, I have set myself a goal to read 160 books. I was thinking about sticking with 150, but I like setting a little higher challenge for myself. If you’d like to hang out with me over on Goodreads, and want to recommend a good book, please do! My reading tastes are pretty eclectic, but I do tend to go all in for urban fantasy and horror. Last year, and this year, I’m looking to finish up all the books I own that I haven’t read, and read more fantasy, as well as indie horror.

And, of course, there’s a whole category of books that I own that I bought for research or work purposes that I need to crack open and get to work on. When I read Marie Kondo’s books, much of what she talked about resonated with me, as far as creating space and using what you have. I also had to collapse much of my personal belongings, including my craft stash and equipment, into a smaller space as we had some family move in with us into what used to be my office and craft space. This was a blessing, because it caused me to go through and evict a bunch of stuff that I wasn’t using and didn’t want, as well as put my books in bins under my bed, on shelves over my bed and on my nightstand. They are within reach, and I’ve been taking some to the used bookstore and getting my fill of horror and fantasy in return!

Anyway, this week I’m working my way through A Weaver’s Garden: Growing Plants for Natural Dyes and Fibers by Rita Buchanan. It’s an older book, which means that some of the language reflects the mid-20th century world in which it was written, but it’s full of incredibly useful information, and fun to read. As someone who is both a fiber enthusiast, a novice gardener, and researching for a future apocalypse novel, it’s a great addition to the reading list. (I also realized that my first few books of last year’s reading challenge were all about fiber and textiles — might have something to do with my recurring resolution to use up all my stash…)

Looking ahead, I’ve also invited some of my fellow readers to share what they are reading lately. I’ve got a couple of On the Shelf guest blogs lined up, and am looking forward to sharing them with you. In the meantime, if you have any recommendations of what I should read, feel free to drop them in the comments or share them with me on Goodreads. Happy reading!

Posted in On the Shelf, Reading Project | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ordering From the Social Media Menu

Remember Orkut?” This was a question posed by the title of an article I looked up for this week’s marketing class case study. To be honest, I couldn’t remember this particular social media platform. According to the article, that’s why it went away. (Well, that and the alleged spam accounts and possible criminal activity, according to the article.) Another possible explanation, one put forward by the text we’re using for the class, is that the online culture shifted, users began to want to incorporate video into their experience, and the functionality of the platform couldn’t do it smoothly enough. And, like many other here-and-gone social media platforms, that spelled the end of Orkut.

graphic depicting circles of connection and text reading "connect"

Whose platform is it, anyway?

As a semi-early adopter of Facebook (it was after the “college-invite-only” but before my mother finally made an account), the question always arises of what a platform must offer its users, and who owns the experience. One particular meme I recall was posted by a friend; the gist of the meme was that if you weren’t paying for the experience you were the product, not the consumer. As someone who has dipped their toe into the world of Facebook ads, I think of that meme often. From time to time, Facebook (and the other behemoths of Twitter, Insta, Snapchat, and TikTok) have challenged and broken into the public consciousness, and themselves seen challengers arise. Google+, Clubhouse, MeWe, Discord, NextDoor … and then there are the platforms–like Orkut, or Vkonakte– that see most of their success outside the US.

One of the interesting things about Orkut was that it wasn’t able to scale up to incorporate new features, such as the videos. On Facebook, I’ve often noticed people write about some new feature, or some new Newsfeed design (and as someone running pages and groups, I’ve DEFINITELY noticed some changes in the functions I use to promote my businesses and hobbies.) I’ve also more than once seen people post to Twitter expressing frustration at not being able to edit Tweets, or note that with screenshotting, even if something fades away or gets deleted, it’s never really gone. Who gets to make those decisions for the platform? Probably not the user, but still, once the new features are implemented, we start to use them and figure them out. On the other hand, I hate to say it, but if Facebook still looked the same way it did in 2007 when I started using it, I probably wouldn’t be. For the articles and text case study noticing that Orkut’s failure to introduce substantive innovations and changes led in part to its demise, I would say that’s probably accurate. It’s also one of the reasons why I, as a person who lives and markets on social media, may have dipped my toe in the waters of other platforms, but always seem to come back to the ones that, as frustrating as they may be in their refusal to allow users to participate in the development of their own experience, will still be there in a few more years.

People who need people…

When reading the case study of the rise and fall of Orkut, the emotional resonance was what stood out for me and, I think, what stands out when I think about the platforms I use. It starts at the beginning, when Orkut was building his self-named platform on his lonesome at Google. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? And then, the fact that the site was so well-received in certain places, showing that it was connecting people who craved that connection in a certain way. Even to this day, people are posting retrospectives about the service (although a follow-up platform, Hello, launched in India, doesn’t seem to have quite the same emotional traction.

For me, as someone who relies extensively on social media marketing, I utilize the platforms that have some emotional resonance for me, as well as for the people who read the books I am writing and publishing. Facebook is my old school stomping grounds, a place where I network and watercooler with other writers, catch up with friends from college, the Army, high school, places we’ve lived, or chat with my family on Messenger. Twitter is where I can slip into the stream of news and thoughts from strangers and friends around the world who share passions and geek out about the same things. Instagram is where I go for wholesome photo content. And although I don’t post to TikTok, I enjoy the short videos and catchy tunes that people post.

To infinity and beyond!

As I evaluate my online presence, both personal and professional in light of the case studies in this text, I have definitely been re-looking at where I spend my time and attention online, and how much and what kind of that time and attention I have to spare. For me, I need to use the platforms that have an emotional resonance for me as the user, for the target audiences (individual, group and niche) that I’m trying to reach, and that also allow me to comfortably interact when someone engages. I also can’t spend all my time online, although I should say, more accurately, that while I CAN, I SHOULD not… This particular case study gives me some food for thought, especially as there are a few new social media platforms popping up for authors, and I’ve been thinking about whether or not to join. I’ll check them out and let you know!

Posted in Conversations | Tagged | Leave a comment

On the Shelf: Dusting Off the Shelf

This feature has been sitting sadly dormant, waiting for me to remember that blogging consistently is something that a) I enjoy doing and b) probably SHOULD be doing and c) is great for the ol’ NaNoRebel word count. On the other hand, you know what hasn’t been sitting dormant? My reading project!

That’s right. Although I’m currently four books behind in my Goodreads reading challenge, I have been reading steadily at a pace that I have not maintained in years. Maybe it was the challenge? Maybe it is the fact that whenever I dive deep into the reading pool, I notice that my writing-idea brain starts churning, and the creative juices start pumping, and I actually get more writing done. Or…

It could possibly be that I finally got around to purging my bookshelves, took a giant stack of used books down to a used bookstore I had never visited, got $60 worth of store credit, and then spent at least an hour ambling around their shelves and shelves of classic (80s and 90s) fantasy and science fiction. I can’t even describe how awesome it was to be like, oh hey–Stainless Steel Rat! How you been, Harry Harrison? How’s Slippery Jim? (The answer: Just as awesome as I remember when I was reading the series in college in the 90s). Aw, Barbara Hambly… I missed you and your Silicon Mage. Hey, Poul Anderson and Mercedes Lackey and and Patricia McKillip and Tanya Huff and Anne McCaffrey and books with spaceships on the covers and books with dragons and fancy fantasy font on the covers and books that are the third in a series so I get mad, but still enjoy them anyway, and books that are gigantic because they’re all three books in a series…

Excuse me, I’m feeling a little misty here, need to go and put on some flannel and some Converse and smoke a clove cigarette in Washington Square Park and then go to an SCA fighter practice in Union Square Park, I’m feeling so nostalgic…

So many books, so little time. My current nighttime view.

This past week, I dove into the stack, reading The Silicon Mage and Stranger at the Wedding, both by Barbara Hambly. Both of these books scratched that high/alternate universe fantasy itch, with casts of characters, female POV characters with agency, wonderful ways to look at magical systems, and just all around made me feel like I was reading this sort of fantasy for the first time again. Yeah. Nostalgia. Then, I read The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You by Harry Harrison. This series is/was a favorite of mine and my brother’s. In fact, when I posted about it in the family chat, everyone got all nostalgic right along with me. I love the fast-paced, comedy-noir-in-space vibe, and now I want to go back and see if they have any more on the shelf because I want the rest of the series…

Outside of the bookstore, I picked up Hunter Houston and the Molten Menace by Bobby Nash on Kindle Unlimited, which is a tie-in to the Bubba the Monster Hunter series by John Hartness. It’s a fun actioner with lots of twists and tunnels (literally). Nostalgia aside, one of the things I enjoy about the current indie publishing scene is that if you like a series, the author is probably writing in it quite frequently, and doing things like inviting other authors to write in their universe. Which is great for readers who enjoy that universe.

Anyway, that’s my reading wrap-up for this week. At the moment, I just started reading Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I’m making good progress on Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and I’m getting through my Social Media Marketing text chapter by chapter. I also need to get cracking on some of the reading I’m doing for background for the Rick Keller Project, but hey, look at that fat stack of books up there. I won’t be hurting for something to read. I’ll tell you all about it next Wednesday!

Posted in On the Shelf, Reading Project | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Remember that breast cancer awareness meme? Forget it.

October is over (sob), and of course I was focused on spooky things all month long. However, on this first day of November, I was reading a case study in my marketing class about the breast cancer awareness meme that infiltrated Facebook, and it reminded me that October was also breast cancer awareness month. One of the things about taking this class in my forties is that I actually remember–and have sometimes participated in–the social media trends and memes that our text explores.

But not this one.

In case you weren’t around then, what happened was that people started writing statuses that had a bit of a sexual innuendo to them. Things like “I like it in the closet” or “I like it on the kitchen counter.” The first one I saw, I kind of thought that maybe my friend was having a laugh, but didn’t think too much of it. A few days later, more and more of these started popping up, with friends posting about all the places they “like it.” And by friends, I don’t mean my whacky, kinky, arty friends. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to see your aunt, or your mom’s friend, or someone who you don’t want to think of in a certain way post this sort of status?

I almost wish I hadn’t remembered this meme so clearly.

So, what was the deal?

If you, like me, are the sort of person who spends more time on social media than you should, then you can probably guess what happened next. A friend messaged me the secret code. It was a copy and paste paragraph that basically said we were all going to raise awareness for breast cancer by posting the location of our purse in the phrase “I like it on…”

Now, I’m as down for Internet shenanigans as the next Gen-X-er who is only slightly aware of what the most current shenanigans are, and can be relied on to use the hip new lingo about two weeks after it’s gone out of style. But, I’m also a communication scholar, and I had a very hard time looking at that paragraph and trying to connect it to any sort of potential tangible results.

For one thing, there was no call to action in this activist meme. In fact, it didn’t even reach for the basic objective of raising awareness, an objective that has been called “lazy” by those who would decry “slacktivism.” In fact, I stared at the secret paragraph and asked how, exactly, a secret code on Facebook would actually connect to people who weren’t aware of breast cancer and make them aware of it if what it looked like was that we were all talking about…well, not about breast cancer.

Get People Talking

I don’t think that this method of engaging with cancer activism is all wrong. Much of social media marketing, whether of your latest book release, a new pair of sneakers, or a cause near and dear to your heart, relies on starting and maintaining a conversation among people who are already familiar with the product or concept, as well as people who may be interested in it once they learn of it.

During the ALS ice bucket challenge, my sister Thea posted a video of her tossing ice cold water over her head. In the caption, she mentioned that she also donated money to the ALS foundation, and offered a link for others to do the same. I have several friends who post occasionally, often around the time of their yearly mammogram, about the need to go get one, as well as the need to do monthly checks. This word-of-mouth can help remind people to go do their self-checks as much as it can help influence them when they’re trying to decide what movie to go see on Friday night.

And Then Shorten the Distance

When the conversation is going strong, that is when people’s interest in doing stuff is at its peak. From experience, I can tell you that trying to get people to do something once the shine of novelty has worn off can be an exercise in frustration. For this reason, I never post book promo without an easily accessible buy link. I always recommend that anyone posting about an upcoming event includes location, date, time and POC in EVERY SINGLE POST. And finally, make it easy for people to do something about the topic they are talking about. Shorten the distance from Point A (Awareness) to Point B (Action).

When it comes to cancer awareness, I have a personal investment. I have lost family members to cancer, and others in my friend and family circle have fought it. Some are now cancer survivors. For me, participating in a vaguely sexualized meme that didn’t connect to action, let alone actually promote awareness, was not an attractive prospect.

Instead, I joined (a few years later when I found out about it) the FxCK Cancer Endurance Club. This organization uses a good deal of social media promotion and marketing, relying on its members to share photos and videos, as well as the link to their fundraising site. I like to share videos of me talking about training and racing, including post-race rundowns and thank yous to sponsors. I haven’t been training much since the plague took me out, but as I get back into it, so will my social media feeds start looking a little more purple and gold.

Here I am after a sprint triathlon earlier in 2021. This is the post-race face of someone who came in dead last, but never quit.

Anyway, this walk down memory lane has given me some good food for thought on how to start these sorts of conversations, but also how to sustain them and translate them into invitations to act–whether to donate to the Fuck Cancer organization, to follow the FC Endurance Club on Insta, to check out the latest Crone Girls Press anthology, or to go get that mammogram scheduled. And it also reminds me that I need to go for a run tomorrow. I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts on the topic, especially if they remember the breast cancer meme or the ALS ice bucket challenge. Did you participate? How did you participate? What made you decide to chime in one way or the other? Let me know!

Posted in Conversations, Welcome | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Expanding My Repertoire, Improving My Social Media Marketing Skills

The other day, I sat down and realized that the majority of products I use, ESPECIALLY when it comes to my writing and publishing projects, come from seeing friends (or strangers, if I’m on Twitter) post about them. Additionally, there have been a number of products that I have chosen NOT to use, once I did some searching and saw how those brands interacted with their customers online. Finally, I have also, as a user, had varying customer service experiences when interacting with brands’ social media. All of these insights have led me to where I am now–taking a Social Media Marketing class as part of SNHU’s MFA in Creative Writing. As an author, as a publisher–as a brand–I want to be able to interact and communicate with others online effectively and positively. (Or, as positively as a horror author can really be, let’s be honest…)

Communication Versus(?) Marketing

One of the insights that this class has given me was one that should have been obvious–but wasn’t until the textbook pointed it out. Namely, marketing, especially social media marketing, is all about communication. When viewed in the communication lens, instead of the platform lens, a lot of the concepts of being on social media start to make more sense. For example, so many authors I know focus on the platform, asking questions like, Do I have to be on Twitter? Should I try TikTok? Is Bookstagram still a thing? (Hint: Most of the “get in on this” posts about Bookstagram are over a year old, and there are more about why people are leaving or taking a break from their accounts.) I’ve even had some writers tell me they didn’t want to do social media, which is why they were going to try to go the trad pub route. (Another Hint: You’ll still want a vibrant social media presence.)

Thank you, Canva. Your selection of horror-themed pics and graphics does not disappoint!

Don’t get me wrong, marketing is definitely part of my online presence (just ask all the folks the other day who got a look at my post about my book, which FB then slapped an erroneous label on and tossed it into FB Marketplace, WWHHHHYYY…) However, communication is what you are DOING online.

One of the examples of this that made a lot of sense was the case study presented in the text regarding Warby Parker. This is a company that wanted to disrupt how people bought prescription glasses, and so they offered a try-at-home service. Combined with an active social media communication campaign as well as donating glasses to people in need, they have thrived since launching, and are still going strong today. In fact, I saw quite a few posts from my FB friends mentioning them (or posting themselves trying on glasses, just like Warby Parker encourages their customers to do.)

The social media technology aided Warby Parker by first, allowing them to reach audiences already accustomed to interacting online and second, by making it possible for them to encourage their potential purchasers to do what most people already like to do online–post pictures of themselves and ask their friends what they think. This model reminded me a lot of the Stitch Fix model, which is a personal shopping and styling brand that sends personally chosen clothes and accessories, lets you try them on, and send them back if you don’t like them. (Coincidentally (maybe?) both companies were started or came together in the 2010/2011 time frame.)

Again, Canva for the skeleton-wearing-glasses win.

I don’t know if this specific marketing model is directly translatable to an author platform, but what I do know, is that some elements of this communication strategy are available to me as an indie publisher. From sharing photos taken with people who purchase my books at conventions, to encouraging interaction in my press’s Facebook group, social media has allowed me to amplify my communication to a group of potential readers–and given them the chance to complete the feedback loop and communicate with me.

This idea of encouraging communication and engagement from potential customers can, I think, also translate to fostering that sort of communication among members of the brand. Online, Warby Parker has made great strides by encouraging communication with the brand. As I gear up to publish our next big print anthology, one of the promotional activities is to share photos of our authors with their “Crone Girls Press Author” buttons. This way, I am engaging and communicating on a variety of levels, and that conversation that is happening (for us, on Insta, Twitter, and Facebook) helps boost visibility and contributes to platform growth and book sales.

So, What Now?

Okay, well, while I don’t think that I will be going public on the New York Stock Exchange anytime soon, I do think that some of the insights from this course so far will help to give me a better idea of how to more effectively communicate online, and how to increase my promotional activities by NOT viewing them as marketing, but viewing them as communicating.

One of the things that I see over and over, such as in this blog on how authors can use social media IS a focus on communicating, on not flogging your sales over and over and over. I remember the one memorable occasion when an author friended me on Facebook, then, after I accepted the request, almost immediately send me a private message in the voice of his character, introducing the character and his book. I replied with my own character (hey, if you’re going there, I’ll meet you!), and then I never heard a single thing from them–not a like, not a comment, not a share. Until … my birthday rolled around and as a happy birthday message that author posted a greeting that included a buy link to their Amazon page. That was a short case study in how NOT to use social media–but it’s also a case study in how, if you look at social media through a communicating lens, you would already see that such a comment or private message would be rude. After all, do we start every conversation like:

Other Person: Hello, my name is Rachel and I like dogs.
Writer: BUY MY BOOK!

For me, I don’t think this will require much of a change in how I use social media. However, it’s given me some ideas of topics to think about (and hey look – it got me blogging after a long dry spell. In fact, this blog may be making up for six months of not posting. Oops.) I’ll keep you updated!

* * *

Like what I’m putting out in the world? Want to fuel the next session? Buy me a coffee!

Posted in Welcome, Writing Reflections | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Side Roads is live!

I probably should have posted this on Wednesday, my actual launch day, but having managed to schedule everything in my life in the month of June, I didn’t quite get around to it. But I wanted to let everyone know that Side Roads: A Dark Fiction Collection is live and available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback!

It’s been an awesome week, made even awesome-r by the fact that Eddie Generous, host of The Unnerving Podcast, invited me on this week. We talked about short stories, side roads in the middle of nowhere, and I read a short story from the collection, “Holes.” It was a fun conversation, and it was also pretty cool that the other guest was Joe R. Lansdale.

For those who have picked up the book, I wanted to say thank you very much! And for those of you who have read to the end (like, ALL the way to the end), you’ve probably seen the information about my next project, The Rick Keller Project. I have some pretty great news about that… but I’m going to wait until tomorrow to share. In the meantime, enjoy! And, if you have read or are reading, I would dearly love a review once you get to the end. Thanks!

Posted in Writing Reflections, Writing Wins | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Some Author Thoughts on Kindle Vella

One of the hot topics right now in author groups is this new app, Kindle Vella. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Amazon is basically trying to get into the serialized fiction market, and has been pitching this publishing service to authors for a few months now. The app is poised to go live in July, and will be available on phones and tablets, which is primarily where people are reading short serials already. You can buy tokens that will “unlock” episodes, and then Amazon and the author will share in the bounty.

So of course — we all have questions. Will it be worth it to get in there as an early adopter? Which genres might fare the best? Will we be able to write fast enough to post a regular episode, or should we serialize a finished–yet unpublished–project? (Be careful not to try to put up anything that’s already been published somewhere else, even if you have taken it down. Amazon wants new, fresh content to entice readers to come on board.)

In the interest of full disclosure — I really don’t have all, or any, of the answers. I’m just someone who enjoys reading, enjoys writing, and happened to have an unpublished project that I didn’t have any plans for until Vella popped up as an option. However, when this topic came up in my Facebook writing group, I ended up dashing off a response based on what I’d been reading about the app, as well as some of my experience using the app from the author end, plus reading and learning as much as I can about what readers of different genres might go for. That post was kind of long, and I thought, you know, that might make a good blog post, so with a few revisions and expansions, here it is!

BLUF (or bottom line up front): From an author/publisher perspective, this interface is very easy to use, so if you have an idea that might work, I highly recommend that you go in there and play around with it. The worst that could happen is that it doesn’t quite work out, and then you can unpublish your work as a Vella project, and re-publish as an indie project on either KDP or another platform.

So, here is what I’m thinking and doing with Vella. My plan right now is to put up my paranormal romantic suspense novella that I was planning to use as a reader magnet for a longer series. I worry that having a novel-length project might result in too many episodes, which might then make a reader who is frugal with their tokens decide to take a chance on a series with less episodes. The reader magnet is about 12,000 words right now, with my plan to write about 10,000 more. I have the basic scenarios for the rest of the book series planned out; based on the reader/audience reaction, I may either continue to write the series in Vella, or keep Vella as a reader magnet to lure readers to the indie-published books that come next.

I chose to dip my toe into the waters using my romance writing, given that many of the readers who already consume serialized material seem to be romance, fanfic, graphic novels/manga, or YA. Will those audiences leave their current platforms and head over to Vella? I don’t know. But I think that I, as a reader, would be willing to return to serials on a platform run by Amazon if I could one-click and “Buy Now” a selection of tokens, and be updated when new episodes go live. Are all readers me? No. But until it launches, I have to unscientifically extrapolate from experience.

Also, it seems that more established writers are able to serialize work through Patreon, so perhaps this serialized format has become normalized enough to easily translate to readers in other genres. I know that Amazon bends over backwards to the readers to get them to invest in the platform, so I feel like they’ll probably make it easy for readers to find series in the genres they read–and then poke them to remind them when new episodes are available.

There was a good Medium article on this the other day, Why Kindle Vella is Not Going Away by Monica Leonelle, that noted that Amazon was an early player in the ebook market, but when it comes to serialized fiction, they’re playing catchup. So… I think that if you are a more established writer already benefiting from Amazon’s reading platforms, you may be able to expand reader expectations as far as the genres they’ll find and enjoy. I think if you are a writing in a genre where readers are already accustomed to serial fiction, you may, as a less established writer, have an easier chance of breaking in. This is why I chose to go the PNR route, as opposed to putting up something else.

Note that Kindle Vella does not allow you to publish anything that has already been published somewhere else. They really want to differentiate their market from the other serial platforms out there, and if you do try to upload something that’s already been published, they’ll kick it off (not sure if they kick you off entirely). This could be a good opportunity, especially if readers are going in with the mindset that they’re going to get new stuff, although they might also want new stuff from the authors they already know, so maybe they’ll get disappointed if they don’t see that – or maybe they’ll take a chance on something in a similar genre.

I do think that it’s worth trying out if the pace and format works for you. The worst that could happen is that nothing happens, and then you take your work down and publish it as usual (although you might only be able to indie publish at that point, as I think most larger houses won’t be open to publishing something that already launched, except for those presses open to re-launching series.) I also think that anyone trying to prognosticate about what’s going to happen with this, or what might work or not, probably has about as even a chance as anyone of being right, so honestly, take what I say with a grain of salt and check it out for yourself.

Speaking of which, at this point, I’ve spoken to a number of authors who seemed interested in Vella, but had some trepidation. Would it be difficult? Were there some ins and outs that might take a while to learn? What’s going on? I know that I personally find it a little easier to try something new if I have a good idea of what to expect, and so following are some screenshots that will take you on a little tour of what it’s like within the interface. As I mentioned above, first, this is for an unpublished novella that is meant to be a reader magnet to a paranormal romantic suspense series, and so I’m writing under my romance pen name. (Shameless plug: For my non-PNR romantic suspense, check out Negotiating Her Release!) Second, this was originally posted as part of a discussion in a Facebook group, so these were screenshots I took from my phone. They’re not super fancy, but the interface is not complicated, and so this is pretty much what it looks like when you go in.

So, when you log into KDP, and click on Vella (it’s all the way at the top, above the create ebook and paperback choices), you get this:

If you click “Start a Story,” it will ask you for the title, name, tags, genre etc. You will also need a graphic for the circle — you don’t need the title or author on the graphic, because the title and and author will pop up on the screen anyway. This is what mine looks like — a user-friendly, attractive interface, not too crowded. Your blurb can’t be as long as a typical blurb — think more logline length.

If you are coming back, this will pop up, and you just hit “manage story” to get back in and get to work.

Each time you post an episode, it will go through a review. You can title the episode, and edit within the text even after it goes live, but the amount of tokens is based on the word count. (Also, you don’t have to add the episode number and/or title inside the text box, because that is part of the interface, and it’ll just look like it’s repeating. That’s why some of my previously published episodes in this screenshot are gray — I went in, changed some stuff, and now they’re waiting on a second review to go live.

The neat thing, too, is at the end of the episode, there’s a spot where you can leave a note to the readers. This is a great place to tease the next episode, commiserate with your readers, and generally just connect to them. One of the reasons I enjoy things like Patreon or following authors online is to learn what’s going on “behind the scenes.” So here is a built-in option to allow you to do that. This example is from the last episode I was working on this weekend:

Anyway, like I said above, Vella is super easy to use, so if you have been thinking about it, go on in and play around with it. You can import a file, copy and paste, or just write the episode in there. I personally don’t recommend that last option; I’m using Scrivener to plot and write the episodes, and do some editing before I upload them. This is to make sure my readers get the best possible experience, and to also make sure that if at some point I do want to unpublish and re-publish elsewhere, I’ll have the original file as a whole. I don’t know much else except what I’ve posted, it if anyone has any questions or wants to toss around ideas, I’m available to chat.

As the Vella app goes live, and we start to get feedback from readers, authors, and Amazon, I’ll keep you updated about what happens with this project. I think it will be very cool to check out, and I’m hoping this will be another method authors can use to get great stories in front of their fans.

Posted in Coach/Mentor, Welcome | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Side Roads, Reading Projects, and Werewolves

The countdown has begun to the launch of Side Roads: A Dark Fiction Collection. Author proofs of the paperback copy have been ordered, promotional graphics have been created and scheduled on social media, and ARCs have been sent to my mailing list, as well as writers and publishers who have graciously accepted copies for blurbing purposes. This is always one of the most nerve-wracking times, as I tend to stress and overthink every single thing at the best of times, let alone when a project is on its way to fruition.

But then, when those writers and editors send back these words:

“Whether she’s carving up tales of supernatural hit squads, steam-punk demon folk, or warped-reality TV shows, Iraq War veteran (and defender of the nightmare hordes) Rachel A. Brune writes with butterfly-knife dexterity: Always a flashy cut, a dreadful twist, a sideways chance at hope. And then, things usually get dark. If you love Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson short horror stories, be sure to read this book!”

–Randy Brown, co-editor of Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War

…I start to feel a little better about the progress I’ve made, the work I’ve done, and the book I’m going to be putting out in the world. Sure, there are still many more bullets on my pre-launch to-do list, but this collection is on its way!

In addition to the pre-publication work on Side Roads, I’ve also been tearing through a bunch of books on my Kindle. Once again, I’m reminding myself that a prolific reading habit actively feeds a productive writing habit as I churn through titles and series, chalking up yet more “completed” statuses on my Goodreads reading challenge (84 of 150 books, if you’re interested.)

One of the standout series that I finished in the past week or so include Paige L. Christie’s The Legacies of Arnan books. Full disclosure — I met Paige in an online writing group, and after finding out that she had contributed a story to an anthology set in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar universe, decided to go check out her stuff. I’m glad I did. This series has an old school fantasy vibe, with magic and dragons and a cast of well-drawn, well-developed characters. I’d have read the whole series by now, except she’s still working on the last book. Definitely recommend.

Another series I picked up was one of those that I probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on if it hadn’t been in the Kindle Unlimited program, but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. This is the Bubba the Monster Hunter series by John Hartness, which is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer if Buffy was a six-foot-plus ex-college football star from the South. I basically picked this series up because I had read all of the Quincy Harker books, and was kind of looking for more in that universe. As a Jersey girl born and raised, I probably would have picked it up sooner if it were a series about Sal the Strega Slayer who hunted monsters while running the family pizzeria in Manasquan, but like I said, once I started reading, I found myself drawn into the writing and characters and ended up bingeing not only the entire series, but re-reading the Quincy Harker series just so I could enjoy the final Bubba, which is a crossover event.

Anyway, I continue to read more, mostly on my Kindle, because I can read at night with the lights off and pretend to my kids that I’ve gone to bed. I’m looking for my next binge-worthy series; not sure if I want to hit up a new one, or go and re-read the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. I’ve had a hankering, lately.

Speaking of reading projects and werewolves, I recently picked up about half a dozen dead tree nonfiction books on Eastern Europe after World War II.

Some of the research bounty…

These books, in addition to CV Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War and a number of German history tomes, are part of a reading project for both fun, as well as research for the Rick Keller Project. I’m doing some revisions of the series, as well as plotting the final book, and much of his background and family history rests in the history of Germany and Eastern Europe, at least the formative part of his history that then factors into the decisions he makes and the things that he wants.

Also, I was planning on re-launching the series right after publishing Side Roads; however, I think I’m going to instead pivot over to my steampunk detective project, and work on publishing those in two volumes of three stories each. This will give me time to work on the Rick Keller series as a whole. I also, and this is where a lot of the Cold War research is coming in, plan to write some short stories of the various missions he was doing with MONIKER during that time frame. They’ll be written as if they’re missions that are being de-classified, which I think will be fun and give me a chance to play around with some of the supporting characters I give a glimpse at in the longer novels.

Anyway, this has been a long post, as usually happens when I forget to update my blog regularly. Hope everyone reading has an excellent week — and if you have some suggestions for my TBR pile, let me know!

Posted in Welcome | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment