Wednesday, March 18, 2015

One of Steve's stories in a new name-your-price Science Fiction Story Bundle

Now and for the next thee weeks (a little over 22 days from the time of this post, according to their web-site clock) one of my stories, "Radio Free Future," is a small part of (via the anthology, "Fiction River: Time Steams") a great time-travel ebook StoryBundle. 

Name your own price and get six great titles (including "Time Streams"), or pay at least $14 and get six bonus titles as well. 

The bundle is curated by New York Times best-seller Kevin J. Anderson and includes a great lineup of writers, including best sellers and award winners such as Bob Mayer, Robin Brande, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Steven Savile, Dean Wesley Smith, and many others.

Get it while it lasts at:

Monday, March 2, 2015

A new mystery (and a chance to win a signed copy for free!)

On sale March 4th
Chris (writing as Christy Fifield) has a new mystery coming out this week, the forth installment in her "Haunted Souvenir Shop" series. More northern-Florida murder and mystery, and more of Bluebeard, the haunted parrot!

Of course, you should go reserve your copy at your favorite book seller right now, but you could also potentially win a signed copy for free! We're trying to build our newsletter mailing list, and as an incentive to join, Chris(ty) has set aside twenty advance copies from her personal stash to be signed and sent out to subscribers.  Here's how it works: For every 25 people who sign up, she sends out a signed copy, until those 20 copies are gone. Every time we get 25 more people, YOU get another chance to win. So don't just sign up yourself. Spread it around and share it with your mystery loving friends.

And don't worry. We'll only send out an occasional newsletter or notification of new books and events. We won't clog your inbox, or share your list with others.

How do you sign up for our mailing list? Just click HERE.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wartime Angel of Mercy

More pictures from my research trip: A US Army, Bell H-13 medivac helicopter. This is the iconic helicopter seen in the opening of every episode of the TV series MASH. In the Korean conflict of the 1950s, these pioneering helicopters airlifted thousands of wounded soldiers from battlefields to nearby mobile surgical hospitals where lifesaving help awaited. Stretchers were strapped to external racks on the skids at either side of the helicopter.

The workhorse H-13, and its civilian version the Bell Model 47, more than any other single machine, proved the unique capabilities of the helicopter in war and peacetime. Even as it proved itself as a saver of lives, military strategists were also considering its possibilities as a killing machine, and used it to test the concept of an armed attack helicopter, later brought to fruition by the famous Bell "Huey," and the "Huey Cobra" of Vietnam.

The H-13, the soldiers who flew it, and their tangled place in history, play a pivotal role in my next "Panorama Beach" mystery, "The Beat of Angel's Wings," which I'm writing now.

Picture taken at the Army Aviation Museum at Ft. Rucker, Alabama.

Steve Back From Florida Research Trip


I just returned from a two-week writing-research trip to the Florida panhandle and south-east Alabama. I just unloaded the SD card from my camera to my PC, netting 1300+ photos and videos taken in the last two weeks. Actually, there are a couple more cards to dump that are partially filled with stuff from the trip, so I'm guessing the total will be at least 1500 files by the time I'm through.
Chris and I both have mystery series set in the Florida panhandle, my period "Panorama Beach Mysteries," and Chris's (writing as Christy Fifield) "Haunted Gift Shop" contemporary cozy mysteries. 

Since she couldn't come, I had to be her surrogate researcher, and in addition to taking photos, I mailed back a box of southern cookbooks and tacky Florida souvenirs to act as inspiration. I just flew in last night, so I was surprised when the box I mailed late on Sunday in a small Alabama town ended up here today. Despite my rush packing job, only one souvenir was broken. It looks like the little glass bottle full of shells and sand at the lower right may have had an encounter with the sea-shell behind it, and punched a little hole in the glass. Oh, well, it was my least favorite of all these items. My favorite is the wonderfully macabre alligator shot glass near center. If you can't read it, it says "send more tourists!" I was also pleased with the parrot snow-globe, as Chris's books feature a foul-mouthed parrot that sometimes channels a ghost.

My research was of a more serious nature, delving into Florida history, historic buildings, Florida plants, small-town life in the 60s, and military aviation.

I'll be posting some of my photos as time goes on.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Ebook Publisher that Caters to Indie Bookstores and Indie Authors

I was fortunate this afternoon to be part of a group of about 40 professional writers and a few bookstore owners to attend a presentation by Mark Lefebvre of Kobo Inc. and their Kobo Writing Life team, talking about Kobo and how they're working with writers, the ABA (American Booksellers Association) and indie bookstores. I came away very impressed with Kobo and their practices, and learned some interesting bits about ebooks, ebook marketing and how they're working with bookstores.

If you don't know about Kobo, you should. They're one of the major ebook alternatives to the Amazon and iBooks behemoths, and the biggest one not to currently be shrouded in confusion and uncertainty (I'm looking at you, Barnes & Noble/Nook). Though they're still a smaller player here in the United States, they're huge in their home country of Canada, and they have long been a major player in the world market, currently selling in 190 countries. Kobo offers their own, branded, ebook readers, and is also available through apps on a variety of devices and platforms including Android, iOS, Chrome, Blackberry, Mac and Windows.But what really seems to set Kobo apart is their approach to writers, and especially to independent bookstores. Mark is himself a published and indie-publisher writer, so he sees this relationship as one of us, and not merely a matter of a revenue stream to be exploited. He's also apparently run a bookstore, so he has a special appreciation for that business as well.

Based on Mark and his presentation and his response to questions, Kobo is working hard to meet the needs of writers, not just as they relate to Kobo, but their career needs in general, which they openly admit will involve publishing on multiple platforms, ideally as many as possible. For example Amazon is heavily promoting its "Kindle Select" program and others that require exclusivity to Amazon, while Kobo discourages exclusivity on any platform. Smashwords restricts writers from using converted files from their "meatgrinder" system to upload ebooks to other systems, but Kobo encourages people to use their converted files to publish elsewhere. And while the iBookstore, for no good reason, only allows books to be directly uploaded from an Apple computer (non-Apple users must go through an aggregator like Smashwords), Kobo will actually take a Mobi file formatted for Amazon's Kindle (Digital rights management permitting) and convert it to an epub on their system.

But the really distinctive thing about Kobo is their outreach to partner with traditional independent bookstores, both as sales outlets for their reading devices, and as partners in selling ebooks. Not only can bookstores make money selling ereaders (often to an audience that might never use Amazon or cross the threshold of an electronics store), but they can take a small share of the Kobo ebooks purchased on the devices they sell. Through affiliate links and associations with their customer's Kobo accounts, they can even enjoy a cut of sales made on apps, on the web, and through non-Kobo devices. A customer setting up a new Kobo account even has the option to list a preferred participating local bookstore to get a cut from all their Kobo purchases.

There's currently no way to designate a bookstore to associate with an established account, but they're working on it. This is one of several glitches and complications in the system as it currently exists, but Kobo is aware of them, and is apparently working hard to improve the system. There are still some glitches in their indie publishing program as well, but their direct publishing program is very new (until recently, indie authors had to go to Kobo through an aggregator portal like Smashwords) and so some rough spots are to be expected.

And not only are they working to address these, they're also building a wonderful suite of tools to place sales and marketing data in the hands of indie-authors and small publishers with a level of useful detail that I don't think any other ebook portal will be able to match. In particular, I think it's interesting that Kobo, as a truly international ebook company, will allow data to be broken down on a by country by country basis, allowing authors to optimize for individual markets, and to focus promotion on markets where they enjoy the best success.

A lot of ground was covered in the presentation, but here are a few bits of information that I found to be of particular interest:

Ebook pricing: The 99 cent book is a non-starter these days. It's become a price ghetto, and Kobo makes (after credit card fees and costs) nothing on a 99 cent book. They may even lose a little money. Mark encourages authors not to undervalue their work, and had sales graphs demonstrating that more expensive books sell. There is a sweet spot beyond which sales drop off, but it varies by country and genre. But on average, for novels and in the US, that sweet spot is about $6,99.

Foreign markets are generally acclimated to higher prices. The exception is the UK, where consumers are used to lower prices. While U.S. traditional publishers has worked to keep prices high, UK publishers have for some reason taken to pushing prices down in a way that doesn't serve anyone's best interests.

On higher pricing, he sited an experiment in which romance author Deborah Cooke raised the price of one of her titles on all ebook platforms by a dollar (I think the actual change was from $5.99 to $6.99). On Kobo, sales were up. On most other platforms, they either stayed the same or went up. The sole exception was Amazon, where sales plummeted. Apparently Amazon customers are more price sensitive than other ebook buyers. But the interesting thing is that, after a few months, Amazon sales returned to normal. So even there, the customers eventually learned to ignore the higher price.

But Mark reports that free titles, as opposed to 99 cents, can have promotional value if they're used wisely. They work best in promoting series books, though short-term zero-prices can also boost sales on the once-free title and on other books by the author.

One other bit of advice that I found very interesting, and which should apply to any ebook portal selling outside the U.S. also applies to pricing. Mark cautioned against leaving "money on the table" when pricing foreign books. That is, the automatic currency conversions used by most portals will result in odd prices like 3.84 or 7.28. Mark recommended manually rounding up to the next .99 increment in each currency. Yes, it may only be a matter of a few cents, but it ads up over time, and more importantly, changing the price in this way has proven to actually increase sales. The odd prices somehow look unprofessional and turn off book-buyers. They're used to seeing books priced with the .99 prices, so you should give it them.Kobo is currently in the process of restructuring their royalty structure to place most original-content ebooks at the higher 70% royalty rate. Exceptions including books at $2,99 or less (Mark said they had tried to move this point down to $1.99, but that standard had pretty well been locked in by Amazon), and repackaged public-domain works will drop to a refreshingly tight-fisted 20%. This is aimed at "book mills" that take an existing file of a public domain classic, slap on a bad cover, and scatter-gun it to every platform in a spam-like fashion, in hopes of making money just on sheer bulk. As Mark said, "we value original content. We don't need another bad edition of "Pride and Prejudice." (He did make one distinction though. "But if you do 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,' that isn't public domain, it's genius!" )

Kobo is now owned by the same parent company as Pinterest, and they focus a lot of promotional effort on that platform.

Mark also talked a great deal about the importance of metadata in making ebooks discoverable and in selling the author's other books. In particular he stressed that in series fiction the series data has to be entered consistently across all your series titles, otherwise they won't link up. Most interestingly, this is an area where many traditional publishers are falling down. "One intern enters it one way, and then another intern enters it a different way." This could be hurting sales of traditionally published series books, but once again, the publishing juggernaut rolls blindly on.

There's a great deal more that I'm not getting to here, including their promotional work with the American Booksellers Association, Kobo's up-and-coming (but still a bit clunky) author coupon program, their promotional efforts through emails, podcasts, and blogs, and Kobo's desire to work on with established authors on promoting their books. But it's getting late, so I'm going to move along for tonight.Let me just end by saying that I came way much more enthusiastic about Kobo than I did going in. They're still an underdog in the bigger ebook marketplace, but especially in non-US markets, they're one to watch. And given their culture of working with and supporting indie authors and indie bookstores, they're well worth supporting.

You can find out more about Kobo's partnership with the ABA and find a local participating bookstore here.

If you found this post interesting, informative, or useful, feel free to use the "tip jar" link below to show your thanks, and to encourage us to write more posts like it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Yorks?

Steve here:

Maybe some of you have noticed that Chris and I have mostly been missing in action that last few months.  I've managed a few social media posts (a lot of them just sharing links on stuff I was reading), but Chris has almost completely vanished from the internet, and even my "Minions at Work" web-cartoons have been on hiatus.

What happened?  Well, it's been two of the roughest months in our lives.  Chris had an shopping-list-all-in-one major emergency surgery, we lost a family member, and Chris got a post-surgical infection that landed her back in the hospital and knocked her down hard, pretty much as part of one, ongoing, train-wreck.

You can read a very personal post about it all over on Chris's blog, ChristyMystery.

The good news is, the saddest days are behind us, and Chris is (finally) healing nicely and getting her strength back.  

Both of us are trying to get our writing and publishing efforts back on track (my latest ebook, "The Steam Man's Plantation - A Clockwork Cowboy Story," is now finally up on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, with other major publishing platforms to follow soon).  The next book in the "Haunted Gift Shop Mysteries," Murder Hooks a Mermaid, will be out at the end of December, and the third is coming.  I hope to get "Minions at Work" back up and running, we'll have some exciting stuff about Chris' "Haunted Gift Shop" mysteries soon, and maybe we'll get back to our very-popular conversational posts that got interrupted back in June.

One step at a time, but it's good to be back...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yet More Murder and Mayhem on the North Florida Coast (And a Panorama Beach Mystery Announcement!)

A couple of important mystery announcements today: First, the third installment in the conversation between Chris and I discussing our respective mystery series set in the Florida Panhandle, is up over at her blog, ChristyMystery. Give it a read. 

 Second, I'm pleased to announce that I need to write faster. The master plan for the future of my "Panorama Beach Mysteries" series has been firmed up four titles in advance of the two already available in ebook (and soon, print) form.

 My initial plan for the series was to write four individual, shorter, mysteries that I could eventually publish as one volume in both print and ebook form. That's still the plan, though with both "The Best Devil Money Can Buy" and "A Breath Away from Dying" finished, the installments are getting longer, and I'm not sure how long parts three and four will end up.  So I might end up with two volumes, or even three by the time I'm done (with those four).

The next two are were well mapped out, and I'm about to start writing number three, "The Beat of Angels Wings."  Here's the pitch on that one.  The actual setup has changed slightly since I wrote this, but it's close.

When Deputy Mustang Sawtell witnesses a sight-seeing helicopter crashing into the surf just off Panorama Beach, it seems a matter for federal investigators -- until it's learned that the pilot died not from the crash, but from a gunshot wound sustained before takeoff.  With no crime scene, no suspects, no witnesses, and most clues washed away by the surf, it seems an unsolvable crime. 

But when a second dead body shows up with helicopter connection, it's no coincidence.  To solve the crimes, Mustang will need to match wits -- and nerve, with a fraternity of veteran Korean war air-ambulance pilots, united in war, divided by secrets, and capable of delivering both mercy -- and death -- from above!

The wrap-up for the 1967 series is "By the Rocket's Red Glare."  Here's my pitch (again, subject to revision): When an off-course Air Force test missile crashes in an undeveloped area of Panorama Beach, the resulting forest fire leaves more than ashes.  When Sheriff's deputies are called in to help search the scorched forest for missile parts, Mustang finds a shallow grave with three skeletons, each with a bullet hole in their skull.  Now, an old murder investigation is turning red hot, the FBI and the State Patrol are taking over Panorama Beach, and Mustang's enigmatic boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass, is the prime suspect!  Can Mustang solve the murders, can he save Big Bass, and does he even want to?

I initially didn't have strong plans beyond that, except that those four would all take place in the summer of 1967, and the next series would cover the year 1968, a turbulent year in US history, and also an election year for Mustang's boss, Sheriff "Big" Bass.  But while I was working on those two books in my head, I was thinking about Mustang's back story, and some of the things that made him the man he was in 1967.  And out of that came another story, "Small Bones."  This isn't actually set in Panorama Beach, so I may simply publish it as "A Mustang Sawtell Mystery."

The Pitch: Still reeling from the events of summer, Mustang receives a phone call from his old station in north Pascua County.  The skeletal remains of a child have been discovered in his home-town of Pinodeoro, and they're believed to be those of his childhood best friend, who was abducted while walking along a highway when Mustang was ten.  Stunned, he drops everything and goes to the crime scene, but after seeing the body, he is banned from the crime scene by the investigating officer.  He's too close to the case.  But Mustang can't make himself goes far, and moves into his shuttered childhood home to watch from afar, dealing with survivor's guilt, old ghosts, bitter memories, and probing the darkest shadows of his own past -- where he is certain a killer awaits!

And just the other day I came up with the a title I knew I'd use for a future installment, "A Fist Full of Sand Dollars."  Then, later that evening, I realized where it would have to be set, and then the story just started writing itself.  Here's what I have so far:

When a staged gun-fight at the Dodge City western town attraction in Panorama Beach goes horribly wrong, Mustang finds himself on a dusty western street with two dead bodies, two shooters, no doubt about who show whom, and no suspects at all.  It's either a most unlikely accident, or a most elaborate murder.  But who did it, how, and who was actually the intended victim?  A candidate for either role, is the "Sheriff" of Dodge City, who was replaced in the gunfight at the last minute, and who is now a torn in Mustang's side.  And as he investigates, Mustang will learn that although "Dodge City" may be as fake as a cigar store Indian, the politics, rivalries, and secrets it hides are as real as any, and that he may just have to draw down with the Sheriff to catch a killer!

So, that's the road map:

AVAILABLE Ebooks (And Coming Soon to Print):
The Best Devil Money Can Buy
A Breath Away from Dying

The Beat of Angel's Wings
By The Rocket's Red Glare 
Small Bones (A Mustang Sawtell Mystery)
A Fist-full of Sand Dollars

Hope you're looking forward to them half as much as I am!