While I’m currently reading Ivy Ngeow’sOverboard, which might turn out to be the best Indie book I’ve read yet and will most certainly warrant its own in-depth post, here’s a rundown of some recent Indie books I finished and the reviews I posted on Goodreads:
The Hanging Artist is a very specific kind of entertainment. If the premise (Kafka awakes in a sanitarium to meet a giant talking bug and then is sucked into a bizarre murder mystery) sounds too strange, then it probably will be for you. But if it sounds great (like it did to me) then by all means buy, buy, buy.
Kafka makes for a great amateur detective, and apart from the inherent absurdism of the premise, Steinhagen’s greatest treat for this reader was the screwball detective dialogue between Kafka and the giant bug, and Kafka and the Biede character (an investigator from the mysterious society that wants to employ Kafka’s skills). Then there are all the suspects and various theater folk, each uniquely drawn and memorable, and the playful “nocturnes” following a Hanging Artist performance where acquaintances of theater patrons are dropping dead. The mystery actually had me guessing, and the solution to the crime is appropriately bizarre.
Witty, dark, and sometimes silly, The Hanging Artist makes for smart, surreal escapism.
Susan M. Lane has given us quite an interesting and psychologically rich collection of short stories with Secrets. Admittedly, I was turned off by the opening story about a serial killer that was so well done as to almost give me a panic attack. I wasn’t sure I could handle the collection if all of the stories were that intense. But I persevered, and I’m glad I did.
There are a number of stories about people queued up in lines: at the grocery store, a fast food drive-thru, a bank…and Lane is quite adept at capturing the banal tension of these everyday occurrences, how the act of waiting and observing other people can be stressful, and sometimes the smallest misunderstanding or slight could be triggering. In these stories Lane head-hops from person to person, diving deep into their fears and worries and pasts, revealing the secrets behind the everyday people we encounter…secrets we’ll never know just by observing them.
Misunderstandings (and prejudices) that lead to violence (the closing story is all too relevant today) is another key theme running through many of the stories.
Not all of the stories hit home for me, and some of the more noir ones, though fun, seemed like throwaways. But Lane’s craft is…crafty. And I would highly recommend her collection for those who enjoying reading stories that highlight the darker side of humanity and revel in twists of fate.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since I released my historical thriller, Then Came Darkness. I dove back into self-publishing not only because I thought this was a novel worth sharing with others, but also because I desired to test the waters again, a long twelve years after the release of my last novel, The Thief Maker. I had nothing to lose thanks to the democratization of self-publishing—literally anyone can do it now…for free…through Amazon KDP, which is both a blessing and curse.
Overall I’ve been pleased with the reception. One always hopes for more (more reviews, more sales), but I can’t complain when some readers and reviewers clearly “get it” and the audience organically grows little by little.
Here are some of my favorite reviewer quotes from the first year:
“The catharsis of emotional writing in this book was incredible…I laughed. I cried. I had to take breaks because some scenes tore me to pieces. It’s dark, gritty, and I love it.” – Lo Potter Writes
“A page-turner with a dark slant, morally gray characters who were flawed yet likable, realistic and multi-faceted with certain twists I didn’t see coming.” – Jenna Moquin, author
“Tense and brooding…like (The) Grapes of Wrath, only creepier and with a lot more murder…a delightfully dark read.” – Margaret Adelle, booktuber
“Historical fiction at its finest. D. H. Schleicher is a master with words…I found myself holding my breath several times.” – Gina Rae Mitchell, book blogger
“Gritty, Real, Fiction…Schleicher thrusts readers deep into the early part of the twentieth century, with real people living real lives and experiencing a thrilling, suspenseful tale….the rising conflict and relationships between characters reminded me of one of the classics I read in high school, but this time, I was reading it for pleasure!” – C. D. Tavenor, author and co-founder of Two Doctors Media
In the hopes this might help others considering self-publishing, here are some lessons I learned over the course of this year.
ARC’s are Our Friends – When I release my short story collection next year, I want to send out Advanced Review Copies prior to the soft-launch. The first reviews are always hard to come by, and it took me awhile to find the right audience and support for Then Came Darkness. Doing the leg-work in advance and finding a select group of book bloggers and fellow writers already familiar with or open to my work to send ARC’s will hopefully get the buzz building quicker next time.
The #WritingCommunity is Great, But is There an Echo in Here? In Here? – The #WritingCommunity on Twitter is what you make of it, and it can be wonderful. Through this ever-expanding community on Twitter, I found my “people”—the book bloggers and fellow writers who wanted to read my work and who were genuinely supportive. I also discovered some great indie writers whose work I immensely enjoyed and I would not have found otherwise. But be warned, it can be overwhelming at first, and yes, a large portion of the community is locked into a bizarre “let’s get the biggest number of followers and retweets we can” mentality that leads to a very loud echo chamber. Be selective and strategic and look for those genuine connections—the good people are out there. It was also hard for me as most writers were pushing genres I don’t write or typically read: romance, erotica, sci-fi, fantasy, YA. But I eventually found those doing literary fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, suspense, and noir. You can also find a bevy of professional service providers (book cover designers, editors, etc…) and indie literary magazines (I found a home for three short stories), but just be careful and do your research to make sure they are legit.
I’d Never Join a Club that Would Have Me as a Member! – If you join the #WritingCommunity, you’ll likely find all kinds of #IndieAuthor groups and networks who (some for free, and some for a small membership fee) will make you an author page on their site and blast tweets of your work to thousands of followers. While most of these are well-intentioned and are truly trying to provide a book promotion service to indie authors, the majority of their followers seem to be other indie authors…not readers…and thus its becomes a social media screaming match where books are constantly on blast to a bottomless echo chamber. There is also no filtering of the good stuff vs. the bad stuff and very little audience segmentation. It’s a maddening free-for-all. For me, I found these quickly to be a waste of energy (and sometimes…money).
It’s a Racket, I Tellz Ya! – Contests are a numbers games you likely can’t win. With The Thief Maker I had some luck with contests, garnering honorable mentions in a few. I thought I could rinse and repeat with Then Came Darkness, and though I was able to score an Official Selection in the Suspense/Thriller category for the 2019 New Apple Summer E-book Awards, a lot has changed in twelve years and there are more contests and more independent and self-published writers entering them than ever before. Most have some kind of entry fee, and some pay handsome cash awards and/or provide free marketing. There are others out there in the community far more well-versed than I am about which ones are legit and which are scams. All I know is the odds of winning, even if you have a great book on your hands and the contest is legit, are slim. It’s a simple numbers game, and the odds are not in your favor. I’m likely not going to waste my time or money on contests the next go around. It would be better spent on very targeted marketing.
Treat Your Neighbors Well – If you know what you are doing, some controllable spending on very targeted digital marketing (FB ads, Amazon ads, targeted e-mail lists) can work if you keep realistic goals (we’re talking small incremental sales, folks)…but the best way to build buzz and find readers is to pound the pavements. For me, this was the digital pavements of social media (through real engagement and not just “buy link” blasts, which are okay if solicited), and the physical pavements of my neighborhood which is blessed with a plethora of #LittleFreeLibraries. I’ve dropped many personalized signed copies into these neighborhood nooks of knowledge and entertainment, and many I have had to restock. The one at the end of my street has been restocked half a dozen times. Which means when my family and I stroll downtown or around the neighborhood, there could be a passerby who has read my book, enjoyed it, and I would never know it. And that’s the greatest feeling in the world for a writer.
“Souza’s novel follows many of the standard modern murder mystery tropes, but’s it’s all told from the point of view of a protagonist unlike any other…In Lucy Abbott, Souza has created an unforgettable character who is tortured, complex, and tough as nails.”
Next up is a stand alone short story from Jenna Moquin, Stone Storm, about a man who finds a dead body in a blizzard and then fears the killer may have snuck into his farmhouse for shelter.
“Edgar Allan Poe tales are often over-used for inspiration for far too many uninspired tales. Luckily, with Jenna Moquin’s Stone Storm we have one of the more effective uses of a classic Poe theme. I won’t mention which of his fabled short stories serves as inspiration here, as it would give too much away, but this is one of the better updates I’ve read.”
Lastly we have John Greco’s short story collection, Bitter Ends.
“John Greco’s short story collection, Bitter Ends, is jam-packed with quick, nasty little numbers full of cheating and murdering spouses and twisty turns of fate. If there’s a lesson to be found…it’s probably this: never agree to a prenup. While some of the stories seem more like sketches and aren’t as fleshed out as others, there are a few real stand-outs of the noir genre: Good for Nothing, We All Got What We Wanted (probably my favorite…with its Upstate New York setting), and A Marriage to Die For.“