I received the email today
The winners from among the finalists are announced at a reception that will be held in New Orleans this year.
I’ve noticed a tendency for novels to be divided and then subdivided and then further fragmented into smaller and smaller categories, either by anticipated reader age groups or by some other demographic or other subgroup.
I can understand dividing books into children’s books and even novels for teens (together these were called juvenile fiction, although picture books were separated from chapter books), but now we have middle grade, young adult, and new adult—and then within these new categories, like LGBT and Multi-Cultural, or Women’s fiction, or fiction written by narrowly-defined demographic groups, etc. I see this trend “progressing”. Apparently literature can only be compared with literature from ever narrowing categories, and people are being encouraged to further isolate their reading experiences. I’ve noticed this trend (good or bad) when reviewing writing awards especially, as ever more awards are spawned for very narrow bandwidth writing.
Yes, it helps to know if the book I am looking for is science fiction or supernatural or just about plain human experiences. But from my perspective good literature is good literature. I don’t remember Jules Verne, or Jane Austen being parsed only for specific readers, and I think we’re all the better for it. Of course we have seen an explosion of books published, and it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, but good stories—good novels—still share common things:
• Credible characters—sympathetic protagonists and believable antagonists
• A strong plot with a consistent voice that carries the reader forward
• Good narrative writing and non-stilted dialog
A good book is still a good book and creating a tiny category of fiction will not turn a poorly written book with a weak plot and cardboard characters into a good book.
A photo taken at the CAL event where finalists in each of the book categories were to read. The event took place at one of the Tattered Book bookstore locations, in a suburb of Denver.
A freiend took this photo while I was talkingabout Bosworth (which is a finalist for the 2018 CAL writing award for YA fiction). The annual CAL competition has been happening for about 70 years.
I am providing here (for review), two excerpts form the book BOSWORTH. I’ll only have time to read one of them and am asking people to vote for which excerpt is better for the brief reading. You can vote by emailing me or on Facebook.
Taken from Chapter 1 (Jim)
. . . .
Don’t forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed. Now come give me a big hug.” She said almost the same thing every night. “I won’t forget.”
The nightly hug was a new thing. Sometimes his mom squeezed so hard Jim had trouble breathing, but he never complained. Not now. After saying good night, he stopped by the front door to let Bo in, being careful not to let it slam this time
. . . . .
Jim walked over to the window without turning on the light. It was easier to see out with the room dark. The moon had risen now, but was behind the house where he couldn’t see. Moonlight touched the tops of the trees, creating a silver cast that spread out across the maples and oaks and ash and chestnuts that filled much of the park. And he wondered about the girl again.
“What do you think?” he asked Bo, leaning heavily on the windowsill.
About what? the dog asked.
Jim had never questioned how Bo could communicate with him—there were lots of things about him Jim didn’t understand, but that had stopped being important a long time ago.
“The girl, of course. Was she real? It was already almost full dark when we saw her. Where do you think she was going?”
I’m not sure, the beagle said. Jim couldn’t decide which question Bo had answered, but could hear the hesitation in his voice. He knew it would be a waste of time to press Bo further.
Bo had come into Jim’s life at a critical time—not long after he started talking. Before Bo, others … strangers … used to visit him in his room at night. Most of the visitors were children, but there were adults and odd-looking creatures, too. The adults always seemed angry. Bo told him that these intruders were unimportant and mostly a part of his imagination—not real. He said Jim should ignore them, and that he should pretend he couldn’t see them. Soon after that, the others stopped coming, but Bo stayed.
At first Jim didn’t realize his mom and dad couldn’t see Bo. But there were so many odd things in the world that this one little discrepancy didn’t seem all that significant—odd things surrounded Jim his whole life. It was hard for a boy his age to know what to pay attention to and what to ignore, but Bo helped him to understand what was important, and he stayed with Jim through the numerous changes in his life—houses and cities and even countries, as his family moved from place to place.
Jim’s father was in the army and for some reason that meant the family had to move a lot. Then one day, about three years ago, Bo simply vanished. His parents told Jim it was because he no longer needed an imaginary friend—that he’d outgrown such things. But Bo had returned last year while Jim was in the hospital, still recovering from the accident.
Sometime in the early morning hours Jim’s mother touched his arm, pulling him from a deep sleep. His pillow and hair were wet with sweat. He couldn’t see his mom’s face. It was hidden in shadow from a lamp in the hallway. He looked toward the window and saw the moon outside. That meant it was close to sunrise.
“Wha …?” he asked, yawning.
“You were yelling again, honey,” she said.
“Sorry.” Jim turned his pillow over to the dry side.
“You want to come sleep in my room?”
“No, thank you. I’m okay.” Bo’s here, he added silently.
It was hard at first to remember what he’d been dreaming about, not that there was any real doubt. He’d been having the same nightmarefor more than a year. It all started back in the hospital, and Jim was still learning to deal with the dream, just as he’d learned to deal with everything else the accident had changed. It always started the same way, although over time little differences had crept in—details he was still remembering about that awful night.
He’d been riding in the back of their old Jeep, drifting in and out of sleep. Every time he opened his eyes he’d see his dad up front, staring out into the darkness ahead of them. It made him feel warm and safe to know he was so alert. Even in sleep Jim could feel the car moving as it followed curves in the road. He’d seen a map of their route before they’d left DC. It sometimes ran over hills, and sometimes followed a river through a long valley
. . . .
The Jeep’s screaming tires jolted Jim awake, but he was only conscious for a few brief moments. A loud thump and a crunching noise filled the night as he was thrown into the back of the front seat. Then something heavy hit him from behind and that was all he could remember for a long time. But after months in the hospital, Jim began to piece together other fragments of his memory from that night. Today he’d remembered something new.
The scent of honeysuckle had been coming through the Jeep’s window just before the accident. His dad had cracked one window open to let in fresh air. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place, probably triggered by the sickly-sweet smell during his walk home. Last fall he’d remembered awakening in fire. It burned his face and the upper part of his arm. His right leg had been numb at the time, as though it were no longer attached to his body. Not long after he regained consciousness, the car tilted and broke free of whatever had delayed its fall, and then it rolled over and over before landing upside down in the river.
Cold water rushed in through cracks in the body and through the open window. Jim remembered struggling to get free from whatever was pinning him in place at the time. He tried to keep his head above water, to gasp in the small amount of air still trapped near the floorboard. He recalled how his side and abdomen felt ‘funny’ and that his leg had begun to ache. Jim knew he couldn’t hold on for long. The water level kept rising until just his mouth was able to reach that one last tiny pocket of air—and then he lost consciousness again. The water had put out the fire, but now he was drowning. The next time Jim woke up he was in the hospital. …
Excerpt segments taken from BOSWORTH
Copyright Michael Selden 2017
Taken from Chapter 11 (Missing)
The teacher had started a new unit on the period just after the Revolutionary War, but Jim was having a hard time concentrating—the room had begun to breathe. The walls expanded and contracted every few seconds, bending in the middle. Jim looked around to see if anyone else had noticed it happening. Of course not.
The teacher kept glancing back his way to see if he was paying attention so he was reluctant to close his eyes—then suddenly Jim noticed a young boy standing in the corner up front, between the teacher’s desk and the window. He must have just appeared because Jim hadn’t noticed him there before. The boy was much too young to be in middle school, and he was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and a black tie, like an old-style school uniform.
The boy’s eyes focused on him, staring for maybe fifteen seconds without expression, and then his face and body started to blur. It was as if he was melting then stretching, growing taller, and then the boy was gone and a girl was standing in his place, also staring at him. The girl looked a little angry at first—and then afraid. The face and body and clothing all melted again, and now a boy his own age was there. The figures kept changing every five to ten seconds—a boy, then a girl, older, then younger. The figure finally settled on that of an older girl with long blonde hair. She was glaring at him, a blazing fury radiated from her eyes—they almost seemed to glow. She was older—old enough to be in high school. She raised one arm, her finger pointing at him, and her mouth started moving. She was saying something, her mouth formed into a snarl as she yelled, but he couldn’t hear her words.
A cold chill passed through him and he closed his eyes, as much to escape the terror he felt as to try and make the vision go away. This was something completely new. He’d never seen anything like this before—so many faces and so much fury on that one face. Jim hoped he was dreaming, or that this was in his imagination. When he opened his eyes again he was the one standing. Jim was beside his desk with his arm raised, pointing at the corner. The girl was no longer there, and the room was back to normal, no longer breathing.
Everyone in class was staring at him, even the teacher. Their eyes and mouths were wide open, afraid. The people sitting closest to him had moved their desks away from him, sliding them across the floor.
“Are you okay?” the teacher asked. Even the teacher’s voice was shaking and Jim saw him reach out to steady himself against the wall.
“You were saying some pretty, well … strange things just now. I didn’t hear everything, and some of it didn’t even sound like English. But I definitely heard the words ‘murder’ and ‘bastard’.” One of the boys who’d been nearby raised a hand. “Yes, Charlie,” the teacher said.
“He said ‘rape’, too, and something else … a lot of bad words, including the one that starts with an ‘F’.”
“I don’t remember that,” Jim said, letting his arm fall back to his side. His legs had started shaking. He tried to sit down but they gave out and he missed the chair, landing on the hard floor. Jim’s face and neck turned hot with embarrassment. He expected to hear the other kids laugh, but the room was quiet. When he looked up into the eyes of one girl, her body stiffened and she tried to move her desk even farther away.
The teacher was still staring at him, and seemed to be having trouble talking. When he did speak, he asked Jim if he was okay, again.
“Yeah. I’m … fine.”
The teacher sat down at his desk and wrote something on a notepad. He tore off the sheet of paper, put it into one of the large brown envelopes that sat on the corner of all teachers’ desks, and sealed it.
“I want you to go to the nurse’s office, right away. Take this to her. You can have your phone back now—forget about the principal’s office.”
Jim got up from the floor, his legs still shaking, and grabbed his backpack before walking to the front of the class. He stumbled once along the way. The desks ahead of him parted to make room as he approached. He took the envelope and phone from the table, noting that the teacher didn’t want to touch him. Once out in the hallway, he heard all the voices erupt in the class, even through the door. Everyone was talking, but after a few seconds the teacher yelled for quiet.
Despite his wobbly legs, Jim managed a more or less straight line down the hallway to the nurse’s office. He handed her the envelope with the note and explained why he’d been sent.
The nurse opened it and glanced at the message just as he collapsed into one of the chairs. She took his temperature, looked into his eyes, listened to his heart, and then asked him to follow one of her fingers as she moved it back and forth across his face.
“I don’t see anything obviously wrong with you, but the note says you don’t remember what happened.”
“I may have dozed off,” he said, but even he didn’t think he sounded convincing.
“Wait here,” she said, heading out the door toward the main office. “I’m sending you home. The secretary will call your mother to come get you.”
“I can walk—it’s not that far.”
“Maybe so, but you’re not walking today.”
Excerpt segments taken from BOSWORTH
Copyright Michael Selden 2017
BOSWORT is a finalist for the Colorado Author’s League (CAL) Writing Award in the Young Adult Category.
CAL is a membership organization for professional writers who live in Colorado, and is dedicated to improving writing skills.
BOSWORTH is a paranormal coming of age story set in the fictional town of Bosworth in Orange County NY, and the story takes place in the fall of 2015.
Over the course of the past 4 or 5 years I’ve tried all sorts of different approaches to increase readership. Virtually nothing has worked.
I’ve given books away using both read and review programs, as well as pure giveaways. One of my books was downloaded from Amazon over 12 thousand times, but I suspect that it was only read by a relative handful of folks, and the giveaway added zero sales.
Facebook and Twitter have been fairly useless as advertising media. Not only do they NOT add sales, they don’t really even generate website clicks.
Google AdWords will generate web clicks, and even sales, but the best I’ve ever done was $1 in royalties for $2 spent on ads, and that’s only around Christmas.
I’ve hired marketing firms twice (including a highly recommended one)——results: zero sales.
The read and review programs have been among the worst. On one program, people were cashing in the Amazon coupon I sent potential readers to buy other stuff.
There is no magic key. People don’t buy books because of ads or because someone writes a nice review (or even a bad review). I decided to limit what I do when it comes to book marketing, cutting my marketing budget by 90%, and basically saw no change.
My suggestion: just write your books, as you normally would. Make sure you offer a quality product, use a good editor, designer, and proof reader and don’t worry about selling books.
For those who think they’ll make a lot of money writing . . . well, you could win the lottery—it’s got about the same probability.
I do think competitions help, but you need to carefully select which competitions you enter. If you’re a small publisher, generally librarians won’t bother to even read your books—good or bad, since they didn’t come from one of the big 5 they are ignored, so you won’t be considered for the mainstream awards. In the mainstream publishing world (at least for now) editors use agents as filters and publishers use agents and librarians use publishers. Competitions offer an alternative filtering system, but the industry has not yet settled on a new model.
On formats: I’ve put books out in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and epub formats, as well as an audible book. The epub book, which I offered through both Smashwords and KOBO was a mistake. As soon as I uploaded the book, one copy was bought and then was immediately pirated. The pirates made money on it—I didn’t. I no longer offer an epub format for my books.
I have heard that spending all day on social media pages can add sales. I haven’t seen evidence of this, but then I’m not really a social media butterfly, so take my opinion on this with a grain of salt.
One channel that (at least) offered a way to put your books into the hands of enthusiastic readers used to be GoodReads, but they decided to monetize their giveaway program to suck even more money from the pockets of writers, so I stopped using that channel. That’s really a symptom of the big industry now, which is exploiting people who decide to try writing. There are tons of folks out there telling you how they’ll “help” you. They don’t.
Just write. But if you’re writing poor quality books then you’re just making matters worse—poor quality books are why people don’t take small publishers seriously. Use an established professional editor . . . please.
I’m running Amazon Kindle Countdown Specials on the following books, from Nov 26 to Dec 3——
United States, Amazon.com:
The Balance, Kindle Edition, is discounted from 2.99 to 99 cents
I AM Kindle Edition is discounted from 2.99 to 99 cents
United Kingdom, Amazon.co.UK:
The Balance Kindle Edition is discounted to 0.99 pounds
Bosworth Kindle Edition is discounted to 0.99 pounds
The Boy Who Ran Kindle Edition is discounted to 0.99 pounds
In the past, I experimented with a giveaway, but found that many, many copies were downloaded but never read. For me, this isn’t a money-making effort as much as an effort to get more people to read at least one of my books, as a sample. Keeping a minimum price (this is the least non-zero price I can charge at Amazon) at least ensures that those downloading the book may actually be interested in reading it.
All discounts Begin Nov 26 (Sunday) and end Dec 3 .
My author page at amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Selden/e/B00GSEBBDC/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1Pre-Christmas Kindle Edition Discount—Nov 26 to
In Panama City FL, I remember roaming the neighborhood and by the lake when I was probably still in diapers, and later—from age 3 (in 1961)—roaming the streets of post war (and the newly-divided) Berlin, with its bombed-out buildings. The kids there all spoke only German, but we still managed to play together, as we tried to learn each other’s language. “Wie heißt du?” were the first German words I learned. I remember seeing a young German man with long hair and asking him “Bist du ein Beatle?” Since I thought that any guy with long hair MUST have been one of the fab four.
I think exposure to a constantly-changing set of diverse worlds—cities, countries, states—and being thrown into new cultures as an only child helped me develop I also think it sharpened my memory. When you’re in a group of people and you’re 4 or 5 and translating for a gathering of adults, it forces you to concentrate, especially when your German isn’t all that good to begin with. I think I was blessed to be an Air Force brat, and an only child. Otherwise I would have had something comfortable and familiar on which to lean, and that might have made me complacent. In ever-changing circumstances you’re always either doing your best to swim in unfamiliar waters, or you’re left alone . . . . waiting . . . This later gives rise to spurring imagination. Imagine, as a fairly young kid, sitting on an airplane for 18 hours—quietly. It forces you to create adventures and stories in your head. It’s both good and bad being an “only”. You’re alone and yet you’re not, because as an only child your parents take you everywhere and you experience everything.