Friday 22 April 2011

Friday Flash - Blind Date

So there I am, sitting in the back of the taxi with the cute brunette. She keeps fiddling with the strap of her bag, and I resist the urge to put my hand on her knee. I thought I was dreaming when she came up to me by the pool. Normally I have to buy a chick a few drinks before she’s so bold. Not little Daphne. Of course, she wasn’t talking to me for her. No, she figured her mistress would like me. You know the type - shy divorcee, too scared to approach a guy herself, so gets a companion to do it for her. Well, I’ve been scamming old broads along the coast for four years - what was one more?

“My mistress is a powerful woman. She is do you say...eccentric,” says Daphne.

“You mean she’s rich?” She’d better be - Armani suits don’t come cheap, and regular work just doesn’t do it for me.

“If you prefer.” Daphne forces a smile.

“That’s cool, I dig an eccentric chick.”

“Good. In that event, she would prefer you to wear this.”

Daphne draws a length of black silk from her bag. A damn blindfold.

“Whoa, she’s kinky?”

“No, she would simply have you judge her on her conversation.”

“Hey, I’m cool with that.”

You always have to play along with them. It lets them think they’re in control, which makes my life a whole heap easier. I put on the blindfold as the taxi turns down the track towards the beach.

The road slopes downhill, and the air coming through the open window feels colder. The breeze smells strange, but I just figure the fishing boats must be heading back in. The taxi lurches to a stop, and Daphne grabs my shoulder before I headbutt the driver’s seat. She helps me out of the car and pays the driver. The taxi pulls away as she leads me along the track. I stumble up a couple of steps, and I figure we’re inside when the temperature drops again.

Daphne leads me down a passage, and down a flight of stairs. That’s weird - how many people live in the basement? This chick must really be a whack job. She’d better be loaded after this. I notice that smell again. I’m about to say something to Daphne when the most beautiful voice interrupts me.

“You have arrived. I am pleased.”

I smile in what I hope is the woman’s direction. Her voice echoes and I’m guessing there’s a whole heap of marble in here. I smile again, but this time it’s for me. Marble isn’t cheap.

“Would you care for refreshments?” she asks. Her English is good for a Greek broad. Good, but stilted. It’s that voice though. She sounds like that actress - Kathleen Turner. Call me a fool, but I was always a sucker for her voice.

Daphne takes my arm and leads me after the woman. I realise I don’t even know her name. I figure I’ll just make up some pet name. Daphne sits me on a sofa and presses a wine glass into my hand.

“Would you care for something to eat?” asks my date.

“I’m good with the wine for now.”

“As you wish.”

I hear the slow, steady drip of water somewhere off to my right. It echoes – this room must be huge. I wonder if the old dame has installed an indoor fountain or something. I get an itch under the blindfold. I slip my finger underneath to scratch my eyebrow. A hissing sound starts in front of me.

“What the hell’s that?”

“What is what?” asks my date.

“That hissing noise.”

“I hear no noise.”

I drop my hand back to my lap and the hissing stops. Weird. I hope she’s not so much of a whack job that she has pet snakes. If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s snakes.

“So...darling...can I take this blindfold off now?”I ask. It’s making my face sweat and I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.

“I would prefer that you did not.”

“Why? I mean, I’ve come all the way down here, I’d like to see how beautiful my date is for myself,” I say. I’m flattering her now – I just want to make sure she’s not one of those hideous chicks. Not that it would stop me if she was, it just makes this sweeter if she’s attractive.

“Beauty – it is only skin deep, Christopher,” says my date.

Wow, I can hear her gritting her teeth. Yeah, she must have fallen out the wrong side of the ugly tree – she’s one of those “oh the real beauty lies within” hippy types. I don’t care – her real beauty is her bank balance. Still, I can’t stop being curious. I pull the blindfold down. Daphne gasps and I lay eyes on my date.

* * *

Medusa sighed. She walked across the cavern to inspect her new statue. The face held a mixture of conceited pride and shock, the hand still clutching the blindfold frozen near the face.

“He is a handsome man, is he not?” asked Medusa. Her snakes hissed in agreement and Daphne nodded. “He will go nicely with the rest of my collection. So is such a pity, but they are always so obsessed with looks.”

She looked over her shoulder. Hundreds of niches carved into the rock wall held statues of all sizes and poses. All of the men, all of them frozen by Medusa’s beauty forever.

Thursday 21 April 2011

E-book Pricing

There has been much talk about e-book pricing across the Internet, from authors like JA Konrath downright demanding that self-publishing writers stick to the 99c model to readers giving e-books poor reviews based on their price rather than the content. J.C Hutchins even goes so far as to write off the 99c bracket as being the "bargain basement". Now, given I've got two e-books of my own available, not to mention several in the pipeline, I thought I'd chip in my 99c on the subject.

My first e-book was The First Tale, which collected all thirty episodes of my steampunk serial, as well as containing a link to a downloadable PDF of bonus graphic material. As the word count was below 15,000, I priced it at 99c on both Smashwords and Amazon. I'd given the work away for free on a weekly basis on my Vertigo City blog, and although I'd polished it up and added the graphic extras, I felt charging any more would be unfair. I admit, given the amount of time and effort that went into formatting, not to mention producing the graphic extras, I probably should have charged more.

When I released Checkmate & Other Stories, it was initially free on Smashwords. The fifteen stories had all been published online, although I admit to polishing them up before releasing the collection. As I'd already received payment for some of them, it didn't feel right to charge again. However, when I added it to Amazon, I couldn't figure out how to add a free e-book, so I opted to charge just 99c for it (a price I have since instituted on Smashwords too).

These are standalone cases, and I freely admit I don't intend to charge 99c for everything I do. I put a lot of work into writing and editing my books, and I do the formatting and cover design myself - before you throw up your hands in horror, I've got experience of desktop publishing from my day job, and I've also done courses in graphic design. This all takes time, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect some form of monetary compensation. After all, I am charged out to clients at an hourly rate in my day job, so why should I work for free when I'm writing? However, there is clearly a difference between print publishing and electronic publishing, and given the means of distribution is cheaper, I can't charge the same for an e-book as I would for a paperback.

A while ago, I thought that charging $2.99 for an e-book was extortion. Then I had a discussion with the scarily talented Carrie Clevenger and when I converted the cost into UK money, I discovered that a $2.99 e-book costs just £1.84 in GBP. That's less than the cost of a small coffee in any of the major coffee chains. If you're a reader, that poses incredible value. If you're a writer, Amazon let you take 70% of that in royalties at $2.99 or more. So you earn $2.09 on a transaction (£1.29 in the UK), and a reader gets a book at a remarkably low price. Realistically, I would be prepared to pay anything up to $11 (around £6.99) for a decent e-book novel.

JA Konrath might harp on that writers should charge 99c in order to sell more books but at that price, I'm only earning 35c per sale, which is a pathetic 21p. Pardon me for being old-fashioned, but that's ridiculous. I need to sell six copies of a 99c e-book to make the same as I would selling it at $2.99. Sure, there is a rationale that the lower price would encourage more people to buy, but Heavens to Betsy, isn't $2.99 a low enough price? It's all very well if you're Konrath, selling hundreds of books a day - but what if you're just getting started?

When I started with the 99c model, I believed people would be more likely to take a punt on a book if it cost less than a dollar, and the minimal price would also encourage them to think that at least it had some value, unlike a free book. Funny thing is, I've actually had a couple of people donate money through my blog because they thought the price was too low - and one reviewer even said it was worth much more than I was charging!

I think the problem is that people don't attach much value to something if it's too cheap, and they become unwilling to pay if it's too expensive. To me, the $2.99-$4.99 bracket is just right - the e-books are still cheaper than paperbacks, and they're also cheaper than everyday luxury consumables. As a result, I now ALWAYS browse a sample before I buy, ensuring that I'm not just clicking 'buy' with merry abandon on 99c books I'll never get around to reading. Now, there are some 99c books that are so amazing it almost feels like you're ripping them off by paying so little (Danny Hogan's Jailbait Justice being a prime example) but I can't escape the nagging feeling that authors who charge $2.99 or more put in more effort.

I've also begun to see a lot of tweets and blog posts from people saying they buy 99c books but then never get around to reading them (which is fine if you just want the money, but not if you want people to enjoy the story), while others say they won't buy them as they assume quality will be low. So, if there is a section of the book-buying public that would be willing to pay more than 99c, why are we not attaching a realistic value to our work? After all, there is a principle in business that in order to stand out in a crowded marketplace, you should do whatever the competition is not doing in order to differentiate yourself. So if everyone is selling services in a bundle, you sell yours individually, or vice versa. The same applies to e-books - if the world and his wife are selling at 99c, you sell at $2.99. Sure, you might lose sales from the "random clickers" but you might also appeal to others in the same way that they'd rather spend more for a well-made pair of shoes that will last for several years, rather than buying cheap and having them fall apart after two miles.

Now, I'll clarify that this is just what I think. You might agree, you might think I'm crazy. But how do you feel about e-book pricing?

Tuesday 19 April 2011

[Book Review] Jailbait Justice

When was the last time you read a book that was so fun that you just couldn't stop reading? Well as they say on their website, Pulp Press are "dedicated to providing entertainment and escapism in the form of dime novels, penny dreadfuls and spicy stories that will be accessible to everybody." As a Pulp Press title, Danny Hogan's Jailbait Justice does not disappoint.

Set in a future where an apocalypse has returned Texas to its Old West roots, Jailbait Justice tells the story of gunfighter Jezebel Misery St. Etienne, who mooches around Austin drinking whiskey and killing the unrighteous. She takes a commission to escort a young woman named Alice to Houston where Alice intends to claim the three thousand gold bits left by her father with a local businessman. Of course, this is a pulp novel, so expect prison breaks, shoot outs and even zombies...

Part road trip, part Western, part horror and part thriller, Jailbait Justice starts out at a cracking pace and doesn't let up. Jezebel is a hard-talking, fast-shooting anti-hero, the whiskey-swigging lovechild of Snake Plisskin and Ripley. Danny Hogan piles misfortune on her, leaving you wondering how she's going to get herself out of one bad situation after another. Alice proves a good foil for her, and the mutual respect they end up discovering is a thing of beauty.

Jailbait Justice is incredibly violent AND incredibly fun, and I zipped through it, always wanting to know what happened next. It's a terrific read, and I hereby award it five blunt pencils out of five!

Monday 18 April 2011

Photo Prompt 29

Twenty-ninth prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The twenty-ninth prompt is Vampire Rabbit.

Vampire Rabbit

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!