Thursday, June 6, 2013

Is this really the "Red Wedding" for books?

I have been quite sick the last few weeks which has not allowed me to be a very productive writer and blogger. It has, in addition to feeding my candy crush addiction, allowed me to read quite a bit. I spent a lot of time online poking around other blogs, articles about writing and the kindle boards. In perusing these types of articles, I have found a couple of trends among them. There are a lot of people out there who think the book, as a general concept, is not least they think...maybe...well it might have a bullet wound but it really isn't dead. Sound confusing? I thought so too. So I started reading these articles (some of them can be found here, here, here, here and here). If you can, read of or the hundreds of others you can find with a simple Google search, however, the gist of them all is this: the book is not dead (not even Sparknotes or Amazon can take it down) and everyone is over reacting . The second trend I have found is a large number of articles where not well known, traditionally published authors like to bash self-published authors. The most ridiculous of examples on how self-publishing is a cult can be found here, but I suggest not bothering with a read of that one.

At first, I saw no connection between these two types of articles. The first set, the ones touting the strong life of books, are really no surprise. No one in the traditional publishing industry is going to come out and say that books don't sell, just like an NFL team won't come out and say they are trading a star player even when it happens a few days after the denials. I'm not saying that books are really dead, nor am I saying that the traditional publishing industry is trying to down play any movement in sales. I am only saying that, if the book really is dying, those people are going to push back as long as possible because it is their livelihood after all.

The second set of articles, those insulting self-publishers, also came as no surprise. People initially became popular by bashing traditional publishing and talking up self-publishing to help get its legs underneath it as a legitimate avenue for getting a book in reader's hands. Now the opposite is happening. Traditionally published authors are bucking what they see as a passing fad or something that only trendy people do to make a quick buck. It reminds me of the way people treat Apple products. At first you were a loser if you used anything but Apple products because they were so much better than everything else. Now you are just a corporate lemming who only wants to have Apple control your life if you do use them. It is the way of the world. The grass is always greener.

After reading all these articles it struck me that the underlying cause of both views really is the same. Books and stories are not dying. People will continue to write. People will continue to read. The medium may change, but there will always be stories to tell. And that is the crux of it all. The medium. The real discussion, I believe, is about the death of bookstores and libraries as we know them. Traditional publishers do not want to see bookstores go by the wayside, because then print books die. Not books as a concept, print books. Traditionally published authors don't want bookstores and libraries to go out of business because they will be out of a job. I do not believe it is a coincidence that these articles started popping up not long after the last Boarders bookstore wrapped up it's business.

It is unlikely we will see a store like Barnes and Noble go out of business. They seem to have a decent balance and acceptance of e-books. They will evolve. According to experts, their stock seems to be doing all right and they will make it. The real question is, for the person who lives forty-five minutes from the closest B&N like I do, will small town bookstores and libraries be able to stay open. The library in my town has nothing but budget problems. I fear that, before too long, there will be no library. Many schools are riding themselves of traditional libraries, moving toward Ipads or Kindles for all students. It is so much easier to control and mass distribution can be at the flick of a switch.

This made me think about when I decided to become an author. Many years ago, long before I wrote anything of consequence, I always dreamed of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book sit on a table or going to the library to checkout my own book. Now I neurotically check my ranking on Amazon and get pissed when I don't sell 1000 books each day. Sometimes it makes me long for the pre-ebook days. I no longer have that desire to see my book at B&N, only to see my ranking rise higher to help finance the production of more books and stories.

I also remember how cool it was going to the library when I was a kid. I would watch Reading Rainbow at school and freak out until my parents took me to the library to get all the books they had on the show. I always thought the library was so cool. The smells, the tons and tons of books. It never got old for me. Now I moan and groan when I have to wait two days for Amazon Prime to ship me the book that I can't read on my Ipad. Most times, I don't even check the library that is four blocks from my house. I'm not sure how many people over the age of ten and under the age of forty do check there anymore.

Maybe, just maybe, print books are dying. Maybe we, as self-publishers and online purchasers, are unwittingly bringing the print book in close, getting its guard down and stabbing it in the back the first chance we get.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Let's Get Random

I had a couple of blog post ideas for this week but life seems to have gotten in the way. I figured, I love lists, so why not do a quick hits blog to get some thoughts out there. Here goes:

1) If you happen to be a fan of the Colbert Report then you most likely saw the bit on The Great Gatsby last night. If you didn't, catch it on the show’s website here. It was pretty funny and got me wondering if hosts of these types of interview shows really read the books or not. Would be interesting to know, because that means they are either some of the most well read folks on the planet, or are simply blowing smoke like everyone else. I think I will default to the latter of those two choices. Also, I'm a little disappointed with what I am reading about the movie reviews. I had high hopes when I saw the first preview, but from what I read it is more glitz than substance. Guess I'll catch it on DVD. 

2) Another great thing that happened during that bit on Colbert, was the shout out to Reading Rainbow. This show was one of the things, along with my parents’ love of reading, that got me so into book and made me want to be a writer when I was little. I used to write poems and short stories and think about how cool it would be if one of them was on Reading Rainbow, then my classmates could see it when we watched the show every Wednesday at school. Too bad that show isn't on anymore. A whole generation of readers are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to learn about books. Yeah, I know, there is an Ipad app, but it isn't the same and, really, isn't that half the problem? Go watch some episodes on YouTube, they are still great.

3) I would not consider myself a fan boy of much of anything, well, maybe The Walking Dead, but I digress. That being said, I am a huge Stephen King fan. His book “On Writing” inspired me to finally get off my lazy butt and write my first book. I love the universe he has created and how one obscure thing in a short story can alter another part of his universe completely. I freaked when I came across this flow chart today. It is completely overwhelming at first and I cannot believe someone has the time to update it, but this thing is seriously cool once you get the hang of it. Check it out and support this person’s passion for one of the best current American authors.

4) I caught The Daily Show’s interview with David Sedaris last night and the guy seems to be hilarious. What rock have I been living under that I didn't know about this man? I am planning to buy one of his essay collections and they receive pretty high reviews on Amazon. Anyone have any favorites or a certain collection I should start with? Hit me up in the comments.

5) A few months ago I read “World War Z” by Max Brooks. Yes, this has everything to do with my obsession with The Walking Dead, although the current story line in the comics is being painfully drug out. I really wasn't sure about the book when I started it but, halfway through, I couldn't put it down. It is a clever way to approach the zombie apocalypse (for those of you who don’t know, it is written as a collection of post-apocalypse interviews with survivors and you have to piece things together as you go). My love of this book made coupled with recent interview with Max Brooks concerning the World War Z movie has me a little disappointed. You can read what he is saying here, however, it basically boils down to “This movie is gonna suck” and “This movie only shares the name of my book, not the story”. Both very disappointing.

6) I am planning on finishing up my short story collection this weekend and getting to my editor next week. Still not sure on a potential release date, however, I have decided this will be a free download on Amazon and will include a prequel to my novel The Hunter's Son. It will also have some other short stories I am experimenting with. If you want to know as soon as it comes out, visit my website, and sign up for my email list. You will be the first to know when the collection comes out and may even get offers for freebies or contests in the future.

That's it for today. As always, thanks for reading and shoot me a line if you want to discuss some books or anything else that appeals to you.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

It's not the size of your book, it's the motion in its pages....

     I am a subscriber to a very well known writing publication which will remain nameless, but it does digest a lot of things about writers. I love the articles and the practical information they seem to come up with. Being a person who does most everything online (I would grocery shop online if my wife would let me), I signed up for the subscription on their website which means they got access to my email address and bombard me with advertisements. This is probably my fault for not checking the right boxes but, honestly, who reads all that stuff anyway?

     The most frequent topic I receive in these email advertisements has to with this magazine making writing easier, not only for me, but apparently for everyone. They propose a book with fifteen tips that will make anyone's writing process easier or the thirty things that are holding me back from writing nineteen books each year. Ignoring the fact that I love lists and the fact that there is no possible way a single book would be able to tailor to every person's writing style, the idea of easier writing is appealing. I have never bought one of these books or online seminars ranging from $39.95 to $175.95, but I can see why someone would.

     I usually just delete these emails without another thought, until yesterday. Yesterday I was catching up on some blog reading when I came across a bunch of blog posts talking about Amazon's crack down on "books" having a word count less than 2500 (you can view one of those blogs here which I have selected at random). I'm not here to debate the merits of a book at 2499 words versus a book at 2501 words (personally, I believe neither of these are books in a traditional sense) nor am I here to bag on Amazon for it's perceived evil, whether real or not. At first I thought it was a little rough to limit word counts. Self-publishing has always been predicated on the ability to get your work out there without limitation and now the "man" is stepping on the little guy.

     I really struggled with this, until I started reading the comments on a few of the blogs. The people posting were simply ridiculous. More than ten people were mad because their 1500 word "novel" was worth at least the $.99 they were charging (at that price, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have cost approximately $111.50). They put a lot of work into it after all. I was not only shaking my head but slightly offended. I know how much work I put into my novel and it ended up just north of 70,000 words and it only sells for $2.99. In fairness, not everyone took this approach and some even came around to the idea of combining some of the "books" into short story collections. I'm not even going to comment on the "Free Speech" people who decided it would be fun to try to use the Constitution to force Amazon to keep their "book" for sale.

     Bringing this back full circle, I started to think about the emails from that magazine. The first question that popped in my head was, "Do we really need to make writing easier?". Everyone can write, but not everyone should be a writer. I'm not saying that I should even be a writer, that is for the people reading my book to decide. Nor am I saying I should be the one judging others. However, if  your goal is to put together a 1500 word story, place it on Amazon under the guise of a book or novel in hopes of duping people into buying or even worse, releasing a book one chapter at a time for $.99 each without being up front about it, do you have the right to be upset about what Amazon is doing? The most fulfilling part of finishing my first novel was knowing how much work I put into it. It was greatly satisfying.

     I am not dogging the people who are trying to get themselves more exposure or attempting to write for a living. I am, however, dogging the people who are abusing the process to make a quick buck and giving the rest of us a bad name. I don't work hard on my self-published novels and short story collections just to have other "authors" scare people from buying self-published books.

     I say kudos to Amazon for forcing some people to take the self-publishing process more seriously. I realize this is going to force some legitimate writers to combine some short stories into collections, however, it is good that they are working on getting rid of some of the junk out there.

     Comments, concerns or rants? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I am I wish

A few things before we get started:

1) I am trying to branch this blog out into areas other than writing and self publishing so this will be my first TV show review. Hopefully, I can do a few more of these as time goes on.

2) I had this blog ready to go at the beginning of last week but decided to hold off because of all the craziness going on in Boston. My thoughts are with all the victims and, hopefully, some day those people and the city as a whole will be back to some semblance of normal.

3) Go check out my editors new look blog and editing website. Pretty snazzy if you ask me. She is pretty amazing at everything she does with writers. Cannot recommend her enough. Even if you aren't working on a novel, she might be able to help with you essay, article or blog post.

If you are a fan of the show Spartacus: War of the Damned and have not seen the series finale "Victory" stop reading this and go watch it already.

I have watched a lot of TV in my life. Some of it really good like The Walking Dead (which may be my biggest obsession) and some of it pretty terrible (my wife "makes" me watch Teen Mom 2 and it doesn't get much worse than that).  Very few shows really got to me the way that Spartacus did throughout the course of its run.

Back in 2010, I stumbled upon the first episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand in a fit of insomnia one night. I figured the show couldn't be too bad so I gave it a shot. Boy was I wrong. The first episode of the series was not very good. I almost gave up halfway through, but there was something about Andy Whitfield's portrayal of Spartacus that made me want to actually watch the second episode. I DVR'd the next few episodes and decided to watch them on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Halfway through episode two, my wife walked in and thought I was watching a cheap porn. If memory serves, she walked in the room and yelled at me because she was so appalled. I explained to her that it was just Spartacus, not porn and she was surprisingly okay with it despite the fact that she told everyone this story for the next few weeks. This was the one aspect of the show that I felt was overdone in the first season and, as the show grew more confident, was needed less and less.  

Near the end of the first season, the show really hit its stride and Andy Whitfield became Spartacus in my eyes. The show looked like one that would last for years and years. I couldn't wait the year it was going to take for the next season to start. Not too long after I finished the first season, Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with and, tragically, passed away after a fight with cancer. I believe this was the point the show itself began to mirror the story it was telling. The show became tragic and hopeful at the same time with the casting of Liam McIntyre (glad to see the news that he was just cast to play a major role in the new Hercules movie) and the decision to not cancel the show.

This brings me to the last season of Spartacus. I was quite upset when they announced that there would only be one more ten episode season. The show finally hit its stride at the end of Vengeance and then they decided to end the show, I felt, one year too early. I believed there was no way they could give the show a proper send off in just ten episodes. I nearly decided not to watch so Starz wouldn't get the satisfaction of taking the show away from me (the hubris we have about things personal to us never ceases to amaze me). I still believe four or five more episodes exploring the stories of some of the new characters would have been nice.

There can only be one series finale, and if it is screwed up, it can ruin everything the series ever stood for. This was not the case with "Victory". Nothing extremely surprising happened (although my jaw did drop when I saw Kore up on the crucifix) and history was served fairly well by this retelling. That being said, a part of me still rooted for Spartacus to make it over the mountains even though, deep down, I knew he could never make it out. I still groaned a bit when the first spear went through him even when I knew it would happen (thanks Twitter for spoiling it for me).

The good (the impressive overhead view of the battle scene, Crassus finding out about his son's death and previous indiscretions with Kore, the meeting between Spartacus and Crassus on the hilltop, Gannicus' death scene in the arena) certainly outweighed the bad (Spartacus dying by being stabbed in the back despite the Caesar reference, Naevia's unceremonious death). All in all, I think the writers, actors and directors did every possible thing they could to give the audience closure. That is what I felt in the end, closer. I even teared up a bit when they showed Andy Whitfield from season one yelling "I am Spartacus" in the arena. The entire series came full circle.

Despite the sex, nudity and gratuitous violence, Spartacus was a show about hope, fighting for what is right, not giving up on your family, and brotherhood. Not too shabby for a show my wife thought was a cheap porn.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Burnout is not just a Playstation game

 My life has been crazy lately. Work, coupled with family and trying to write got me to a point where I despised even looking at someone else’s book. I have been working on a few short stories for a collection and, even when I got positive feedback, I would tell the person that they were crazy because the writing was terrible. Nothing I was producing made me happy. Everything seemed like it was being written by a six year old. All the plot twists seemed obvious, even when I was told that readers did not see it coming.

Then it happened. I had a complete meltdown about writing. I decided that my blog tour was the dumbest thing I had ever done (mostly because I didn't sell five-hundred books the first day) and that my book must be a pile of crap because no one bothered to review it on Amazon. “That’s it. I’m done.” kept racing through my mind until I couldn't take it anymore (my close friends will recognize this as my response to getting destroyed by my wife and her team at a board game at one in the morning).

I stopped writing almost immediately. I posted one last time on my blog (the post that is going around on my blog tour, not even new content) and decided that was it. I wasn't going to do it anymore. I quit writing the short stories right in the middle of one of the stories, which incidentally might be the best of the lot, and decided writing wasn't for me. This is very out of character for me. I usually don’t quit things no matter how hard they get. Now my parents might tell you stories about me quitting guitar lessons when I was seven or how they put me in numerous activities until they forced me to continue bowling every Saturday morning until I was 10. Needless to say, I still hate bowling with a passion, but I digress.

I had a discussion with my wife and an email with my editor (another shameless plug for It was then that I realized how burned out I truly was. I wrote the first draft of The Hunter’s Son in around 65 days. It was 84,000 words in it’s original draft. 1200 works a day does not seem like a lot, but I work full-time, volunteer with different organizations and help my wife out with extra stuff for her band program. I then launched into a full edit of the material. Three or four rewrites and numerous proof reads happened over the next few months. The only break I took was from May 2012 through August when I ran for a local political office which took up any remaining time I had.

My additional free time was spent researching publishing options, cover artists, formatters and the like. These things, initially, I decided to do all by myself. I got to the end of the process, launched The Hunter’s Son and began writing the sequel the next day. I pushed through 17,000 words before I got so sick of the whole universe that I quit writing it and decided I would tell my wife how the series ends and be done. She, needless to say, refused to listen. Instead of taking a break from writing, I decided to pump out a short story collection. I figured I could do five or six small stories around 2,000-3,000 words each and have the whole collection out in a month. Never once did I stop to think if I was putting too much pressure on myself. Working ten hour days, coming home and writing for two or three hours before bed, while fitting in dinner, time with my wife and friends, blogging and promotion was just the routine. A routine that was simply not working for my life style.

This has led me to a more normal pace. I am still shooting for 7,000 words a week but am okay if I do not meet that goal. I am still hoping to have The Hunter's Vengeance out by early next year and a short story collection out by mid-summer. If those things do not happen, it won't be the end of the world, but I am going to try. I hope it happens and I am going to work hard to make sure it does.

I guess, after all this I want to say a few things to those of you reading. If you were enjoying the blog posts and updates, sorry. Sorry to my wife and friends for having to put up with crabby Ben for a few weeks. Sorry I did not pace myself. Sorry I did not realize what I was doing to myself. Sorry if anyone was let down by the lack of content. I may have hurt my “brand” by disappearing for a few weeks, but I needed it. Everything was starting to suffer, not just my work, but my attitude in general.

Moral of the story: Take your time. Pace yourself. Your true fans will stick around. It is okay if you don’t sell 500 books right away. If you want writing to become your job, don’t make it too much work, just work hard.

Common sense, right? Well, tell that to the version of me three weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

8 Things I wish I knew before publishing on Amazon

This is the guest post that appeared on a few blogs during my recent blog tour:

When I took the plunge and became a self-published author, I thought to myself “How hard can this be?” I quickly found out being a self-published author can quickly become a full-time job, even if the pay isn’t quite there yet. The Hunter’s Son is live on Amazon ( and I’m pretty happy with the finished product. These are eight things I learned right away that I wish I knew before I started:
1. Writing is Lots and Lots of Work- Being an author, whether self or traditionally published is a ton of work. Writing can become an afterthought if you are not careful. Blogging, tweeting, website maintenance, and general promotion can take up all your time. Be prepared to work hard, but in the end, it will pay off.
2. Please don’t make me read it again- I believe I have written a really fine novel and some solid short stories. However, there is a certain point where I simply cannot read them another time. During the novel writing process I think I read my entire manuscript at least fifteen times. I could quote passages word for word and began to get glassy eyed when I saw it on my screen. The thing that helped the most was taking long breaks from working on my novel during the revision process. This might mean a few days or a few weeks. Each time I came back I felt refreshed and found new things to enjoy about my writing.
3. Sometimes I have no clue how to use commas- Revisions are one of the most critical part of writing and probably the most boring part, particularly the edits after the final proof read. Professional editing services are a must and I have a great editor (shameless plug for but spending hours on end placing punctuation can get old. My advice would be to pay close attention during your second draft process and don’t be afraid to read some things to brush up on grammar. There are plenty of great resources online you can look at (you can even use my errors from the post to help you out!).
4. People aren’t just going to buy my book because I think it is great- I never knew how much work promotion would be for my book. It is easy to think that you can put a book on Amazon or Smashwords and people will just buy it. At first this may happen when your friends and family snatch up the book right away, but those sales will dry up quickly. My biggest regret is not starting promotion before my book was finished. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
5. Everyone has a question for me- I never thought I would have to talk about my book so much. At first, I thought I was bugging people by talking about it so much, then I realized I was talking about it because everyone I ran into wanted to ask a question about it. Be prepared to answer “When did you write a book?” more than fifty times in the first month. At some point, this questions is going to be really cool and at some point this questions will get annoying. Just remember that most people are really proud to know an author because so many of them can’t imagine writing a whole book.
6. Everyone judges a book by its cover- Go to any online bookstore and imagine seeing a book with a terrible cover. Do you think the book contained within that cover is good? Do you think the person put a lot of time and effort into their writing? I was guilty of cheaping out on my cover when I first launched. I took my rudimentary skills in Adobe InDesign and thought my cover looked pretty sweet, until a few days passed and I started to hate what I had done to my good friend’s picture. Needless to say, a few dollars and a nice lady named Cheryl at made me feel much better about my book. Unless you are a graphic designer, pay for a book cover. You will make your money back for the cover at some point, and, if you don’t, at least you don’t have to be embarrassed when you show your book to friends.
7. Self-published authors are the nicest people- Think the self-publishing word is scary? I used to until I met some pretty cool people who are doing alright for themselves in the self-publishing world. Everyone is more than willing to share their experiences and tips on how to sell books. The best part is, most of them don’t even charge for it. Since I published my book, I have been in touch with people from all over the world. Each and every one of them is more than happy to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to contact someone who has a good book. Twitter is a great place to do this. In fact, you can follow me @jewellbe. I would love to talk books, sports or anything you want.
8. I never knew I would smile so much over something I created- I felt proud when I finished my first novel. I know how proud my wife and parents were of me when I told them it was done, but what really stuck a smile on my face was seeing the finished product online. I have a book and it is for sale. I have sold books in the US, Japan, Germany, England and France. People in other countries thought my idea was good enough that they would spend money on it. That is a pretty great feeling. One I plan to have more and more in the future.
There are plenty of other things I have learned since I published my novel, The Hunter’s Son (which incidentally is available on Amazon Check it out if you are interested and let me know what you think. If you want to chat some more, reach me @jewellbe on Twitter or check out my blog ( Thanks for reading and best of luck in your pursuit of self-publishing glory.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Blog tour update or what the heck is tweeting or twating or whatever you call it

Just a quick mid-week update. The blog tour is in full swing. The Hunter's Son was featured on yesterday and there are a number of book reviews, guest posts, and author interviews coming up. I will periodically post the links the day of each particular blog feature, but if you want to see the full schedule, go to my author page at Orangeberry Book Tours here. Unless the reviews are bad, in which case do not go to the blog pages that day (this is my worst nightmare by the way).

Today, as part of the tour, I did something called a twitter view. It was like an author interview through Twitter. It went alright I think. I'm not certain I really knew what the heck was going on. Which brings me to my next topic.

I'm pretty sure I use Twitter completely wrong.

In the past, before my days as an author, I used Twitter for one purpose and one purpose only: Sports. I found it was, and still is, a great way to connect with local sports reporters. Most of the guys and gals are very accessible through Twitter and will give great in game updates and respond directly to fans. Being a sports nut (mostly Chicago teams) this is have become a fun and eventful way to get information about my favorite teams and players.

That is where my experience with Twitter ended. Since learning more about marketing my book, I have been told numerous times "Man, you have to get on Twitter to sell some serious books". I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I feel like I am completely lost. I think this is how my parents felt, or maybe still feel, when trying to use their computer (sorry Mom and Dad).

I always forget to use hashtags, and when I do, I get the feeling I am using them wrong. I'm not really sure, when I reply, who gets to see my reply verses who gets to see my direct tweets. This is definitely something I need brush up on because I believe Twitter can be a great marketing tool. Some people apparently swear by it.

So I pose this question to any of you who stumble across this blog: How have you used Twitter to market your product, website, book or any other thing you have sold on the internet? Also, can you point myself or any other self-promoter in the direction of some good resources about Twitter?

Hopefully I get the hang of this thing quick because I feel like I'm losing out. I don't plan on tweeting my every movement but I also do not want my followers to feel like they are getting nothing but spam about my book. Maybe some day I'll be able to tweet or chirp or whatever with the best of them.

Thanks for reading.