Friday, August 22, 2014

Snap, Crackle, Pop

In this eFile and other writings, time has been spent discussing the importance of the beginning, in particular, the first paragraph, the first page, and the first 10% of the story. What has not been considered is THE END.

During initial story development it is important for the protagonist and antagonist to have goals. That applies to the story as well, so while laying out the outline, details, and notes, a couple important questions to answer are:
  1. What are the main characters' goals?
  2. What is the story's goal?
The entire story answers the Who, When, Where, How, and Why. Then, as the very first paragraph starts everything rolling, the very last paragraph ends the journey, but it needs to be as special as the first to leave the reader satisfied. This would be the “clincher,” a memorable closing, something that leaves an impression upon the reader and say succinctly what has been discussed during the preceding pages.

In Rudyard Kipling's “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” a pet mongoose saves his human child, Teddy, from a cobra. Kipling's clincher was the mongoose's soliloquy, “Oh, it's you,” said he. (Referring the appearance of Teddy's parents.) “What are you bothering for? All the cobras are dead; and if they weren't I'm here.”

Rod Serling's “Twilight Zone” TV series used the works of many writers whose stories are memorable because of the ending. One story was “To Serve Man.” Aliens come to earth and help eradicate disease and hunger. This benevolent act is uncovered in the very last minute of the story – the book the aliens dropped, “To Serve Man,” is a cook book.

In the short story, “Mariann and the Snake,” a teenage girl has a dream of something terrible coming out of her bedroom closet during the night. Sure enough, a mouse appears and sets the household in an uproar. The next night, another mouse appears, this time followed by a deadly snake. Everyone evacuates safely as the dad stands guard so the snake can not invade the rest of the house. Huddled on the neighbor's yard across the street, a policeman comes to inform them that they can't find the snake. (From “Stories for a Sleepless Night.”)

This final shot to impress the reader is in addition to closure, or letting the reader know what happened to the main characters and some of the supporting ones as well. In the final scene of the “Harry Potter” series, we discover that Harry has married Ron's sister, Ginny, and Ron has married Hermione. They have children that are now on the way to Hogwarts. Even Draco Malfoy has a family and seems to be on nodding terms with Harry; a powerful message about change and forgiveness in that very brief encounter.

Start with a snap. Carry on with a crackle. End with a pop.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

EXTRA - Publisher Battle; Amazon View


Amazon and Hatchette are at each other's throat. This letter is Amazon/Kindle's point of view. Despite the "Dear KDP Author," I only have one book listed, enjoying better success with Smashwords. -SPO

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9 August 2014

Kindle Direct Publishing

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:

Copy us at:

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Most Important Part

Note:  I am in the process of moving. While the best laid plans are for only a couple days without Internet service -- well you know what Murphy's Law says. This eFile is short, but to the point because of packing and trying to keep up with other commitments.

A clip from Amazon's book collection

With the hundreds of thousands of books published each year, how is a buyer to know if this book is something of interest or written worthy of being read? In a block and mortar bookstore one simply looks at the first page or two, more if the writing draws them deeper. Amazon and eBook distributor, Smashwords, gives this same opportunity in their online store by presenting the first 10% of the work. This is the author's most important writing.

The first paragraph or first page at most is the hook. If it does not draw the reader into the novel, the writer better have a reputation of spinning a great tale. I personally try to hammer out the best first paragraph possible, sometimes writing up to twenty, yes twenty, versions. There are a number of good books on creative writing that address this issue as well as other eFiles. Take the time to look over the suggestions and take the time to massage the best intro.

Don't stop there. Next is that 10%. Your story must continue strong to keep the reader going, and that's where a lot of what has already been presented in this series of eFiles comes into play.