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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creating a New Halloween Myth

Probably the question I’ve received most often about A Soul to Steal is whether its central mythology, a legend called “The Prince of Sanheim,” is based on something real. I’ve had friends admit that they Googled the term after finishing the book, and others who suggested they had heard of it before.
There is very little as gratifying for a writer, since the truth is that I made up the entire story. What makes me happy is that it doesn’t feel fake. A good mythology should seem real or vaguely familiar, the kind of thing you heard once but have since forgotten.
I’m not sure exactly when the idea came to me. I know a lot about Halloween, and much of what we think we know is not actually true. Occult fanatics and religious zealots in the 19th century invented a past for All Hallow’s Eve which has very little to do with actual history.
Instead of rejecting that, however, I wanted to embrace it. I wanted a legend that drew from those old myths—real and fictional—and created something new. And I needed something that would go to my central theme: the nature of fear.
What I wanted to know was this: do your fears define you as a person? What would it be like if your worst fear—whatever that is—suddenly took shape? Would you have the strength and courage to face it?
I also wanted something that drew from a dark place. Fear is a powerful thing. We tend to view it negatively, but it’s also a great motivator, among other advantages. Still, it cuts both ways. It can either save you or paralyze you, depending on the person and circumstances.
So I needed a legend that drew on old Halloween myths, explored the nature of fear, but also was something unique.
Here’s what I came up with. Do you want to hear a new Halloween legend? Pull up your chair and I’ll tell you a story: Centuries ago, a Celtic tribe was on the verge of annihilation, facing the increasing incursions of a rival. In desperation, they made a deal with Sanheim, the Celtic god of the dead. Despite the fact that most of their young people were killed as a result of the neighboring tribe’s attacks, they agreed to sacrifice one man and one woman to Sanheim. They tied them to a post, bound their wrists together and left them there to die.
But they didn’t die. A few days later, they returned to the village and the young man—who had seemed like just a boy before—was now a powerful warrior. The woman was his priestess. The town elders were frightened, but pleased. The two left the next day to wreak vengeance on the rival tribe. Except when they returned, instead of taking orders from the town elders, they took control.
The two had immense powers—and were intimately bound together. When there was a battle to be fought, the man led the charge. But it was the woman guiding the tribe, making most of the decisions. Apart they were nothing. Together they were what became known as the “Prince of Sanheim.”
But there was a weakness. Their powers waxed and waned with the changing of the seasons. They were strongest at Samhain, the harvest festival we now call Halloween. They were weakest the next day, what Christians call All Soul’s Day. And the power they wielded tended to corrupt them.
Every generation, a man and a woman had the chance to become the Prince of Sanheim, but there was a catch. The man must first face his Cennad—a Celtic word for ambassador—that embodied his worst nightmare. If the man could defeat his Cennad, he and the woman would have access to great powers. The woman, too, would have to face her own test, but of a different nature.
That was the basic legend, but I couldn’t really stop there. I didn’t want to just have an old myth with no echoes through history. So I invented stories for several Princes of Sanheim through the ages. In the original version of the novel, there were flashbacks to many of them so that the reader got a greater sense of their powers and vulnerabilities.
In the end, however, I cut most of that, simply because my novel already has a lot going on. The entire backdrop of the Prince of Sanheim unfolds while on the hunt for a serial killer with his own twisted history and I was wary of throwing too much at the reader.
The story I did tell was that of the most famous Prince of Sanheim: a Romantic-era poet named Robert Crowley. On Halloween night in 1873, he hosted a party at his estate in Scotland. Over 50 men showed up and history does not record the number of women who also attended. What is important, however, is that all but one disappeared. Only a man named Horace Camden survived and he shouted to anyone who would listen that Crowley had found his bride and become the Prince of Sanheim.
The event was so mysterious it gave birth to a creepy rhyme: “Fifty men went up a hill, none of them came down. Fifty men went to see him, but none of them were found.” Camden went on to become a priest of the movement, talking about the coming of the next Prince of Sanheim.
The final step was to set up an environment where this new legend was born again. Quinn O’Brion and Kate Tassel, the main characters of the novel, don’t know anything about the “Prince of Sanheim” when the book starts. Instead, they are more worried about catching the killer named Lord Halloween before he strikes again. But as the novel goes on, they eventually realize that the key to finding the killer may lie in uncovering the mystery of the ancient Celtic myth.
They also have to learn something else: you are what you fear.

For more on A Soul to Steal, please “like” the Facebook page at:

The novel can be bought for Kindle here

This post was originally published in October 2011. This year's guest post can be found here:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Infamous Serial Killer: Why I Love Halloween

Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 31 of 1994, a serial killer calling himself “Lord Halloween” terrorized Loudoun County, Virginia. While he communicated with police only through brief post-it notes left at crime scenes, he wrote long, detailed letters to Tim Anderson, a local reporter at the Loudoun Chronicle.

Those letters only recently came to light after Lord Halloween’s second killing spree in 2006. Most have remained sealed by the courts—until now. Following is a previously unreleased letter from Lord Halloween to Tim Anderson near the beginning of his first rampage.

LH File: Letter #4
Date: Oct. 12, 1994
Investigation Status: Closed
Contents: Unclassified

Mr. Anderson,

Sometimes I wish we could meet face to face. I’ve watched you, of course. I’ve seen you go to the grocery store and the gym. I’ve even watched you on assignment—talking to the police about me. So I feel like I know you already.

But I wish you could ask me questions. One-sided conversations are always unsatisfying and it’s so hard for me to know what you’re thinking. Do you hate me? Do you think I’m a monster? Or am I the best thing that’s ever happened to you?

Come on: what’s a crime reporter without a story? I’m the biggest story this place has ever seen and you’re at the center of it.

Still, I keep wondering what you would ask me if you could. I bet I know one question: why Halloween? I could have picked any name. I could call myself Son of Satan or something equally ridiculous. Why be Lord Halloween? Why kill just in October? Why focus on a stupid holiday that’s just for kids?

The truth is it’s not for kids. It never was. It was a pagan holiday celebrated with human sacrifice. It was a tribute to death and decay and the end of the world. I’m just bringing it back into style, the way it was meant to be.

It makes me sick to see how twisted and lifeless (excuse the pun) Halloween has become. The little painted ghosts in the shop windows and the cute witches with their frisky kittens. All the kids bobbing for apples and dressing up like super heroes and fairy princesses.  That’s not what Halloween is about, Mr. Anderson. It’s not meant to be something the kids look forward to. It’s meant to be the thing they dread.

Halloween is about fear. Fear of the thing that goes bump in the night. Panic at what lies beneath you while you sleep. There’s a whole world out there we don’t know or understand and it’s filled with terrors we can’t begin to comprehend. Halloween is a reminder of everything we don’t want to face, including our own mortality.

But like everything else, we’ve corrupted it. We’ve made it insipid and bland, tried to tame it and pretend it’s all in good fun. But it’s not fun, Mr. Anderson.

Jack O’ Lanterns were lit as a way to ward off demons roaming the night. They weren’t meant to be craft projects for school kids. Costumes were a way to hide from the things haunting you, not play make believe. Even the candy we hand out was originally a tribute to the Old Gods to let us live for one more year. Now the only person who finds Halloween threatening is the dentist.

The world needs to be reminded what Halloween is about. It needs a teacher. I am that person.

I promise you that when I am done, this entire area—hell, even the country—won’t even want to think about Halloween again. If anyone shows their face on All Hallow's Eve, I will consider them fair game.

I am staking my claim to Halloween, making me part of the legend. For now and forever, we will be intertwined. In future years, Leesburg residents will shudder when the very mention of Halloween passes someone’s lips. They’ll look behind them and wonder if I’m lurking in the shadows.

And I will be, Mr. Anderson. I always will be. I’ve told you before, but soon you will know first-hand: I am night. I am fear. I am Halloween.


Lord Halloween

For more on Lord Halloween, check out “A Soul to Steal,” now available on Amazon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Great Halloween Reads by Indie Reader, including Band of Demons

Indie Reader has released a list of "Spooktacular Seasonal Selections" for Halloween this year, and I'm pleased to say "Band of Demons: The Sanheim Chronicles Book Two" has topped the list!

Here's what reviewer Keri English says about the book: "In book one, we met The Headless Horseman and were ensconced by ancient Celtic mythology. Band of Demons delves deeper, bringing ancient Irish lore to the forefront of our already twitching minds. Sanheim, Horseman, ghosts and creatures…this is the perfect book for Halloween." (emphasis hers)

For more about Band of Demons-- plus a whole selection of other great reads -- follow the link here:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What’s in a Book Title? As It Turns Out, Everything

As a reporter and editor, one of the things I struggle with the most is a headline. Even with a story I write myself, the headline is usually the last piece of the puzzle to put in place. Yet it is also the most important. A good headline can sell even a mediocre story. And a bad one will kill off any chance that readers see your work, no matter how good it is.

The same is true for books. Just like cover art, it’s an aspect that new writers, particularly indies, can overlook. It’s tempting to assume that people don’t pay much attention to a title—or will look past it if they find your premise interesting. But the title is probably the most important aspect in catching a reader’s eye. Great cover art will attract attention, but without the right title, it’s unlikely to net a sale.

By now, most anyone reading this blog knows that I worked on A Soul to Steal for 10 years. The novel had several different working titles during that period.

Originally, the book was called The Lords of Halloween. I liked it because it seemed dramatic and it evoked the serial killer in the novel named Lord Halloween. But as time wore on, it also felt wrong. For starters, I was always a little embarrassed that my book had a serial killer in it. And even though the title wasn’t exactly the same as his name, most people would assume it was referring to him. In truth, the book was never really meant to be about Lord Halloween. He was simply the catalyst for something else to happen.

I tried to work on a title that evoked the theme of the novel, but I couldn’t nail it. One of the original tag-lines for the book was: You Are What You Fear. So I tried for a while to base the title around that idea. Eventually I settled on Fear’s Rider. I was somewhat pleased with it, but it never really spoke to me. It was relevant to the novel, but would that title grab people if they saw it in a book store? Did it resonate? I was unsure.

And then I had a dream.

I have a lot of weird dreams and I pay arguably too much attention to them. I’ve recounted my strangest experience with one in this blog here, but it’s hardly the only one. For this particular dream, I only remember a couple things. I had published a book called A Soul to Steal and it was successful. When I woke up, I told my wife that morning that I was renaming the book A Soul to Steal.

It immediately spoke to me. There’s something instinctive about a title—either it works or it doesn’t, and it’s no use trying to sort out why. I look at a ton of books on Amazon and I’m surprised how many bad titles are out there. We all react to things differently, so others may like these same titles. While I don’t think Fear’s Rider was a bad title, it didn’t grab me. But A Soul to Steal definitely did.

It references the Charlie Daniels Band’s song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” (Listen to the first verse and you’ll figure out why.) It worked with the deeper themes of the book. I added some specific references in the text to make sure it was clear, but the nature of soul and identity was in there from the very beginning. It also conveys the right amount of mystery and a hint of danger. In short, it spoke to me.

As an added benefit, it also made naming the sequel much easier. Although I played around with a couple of alternatives, in the end Band of Demons was the natural choice. Like the first book, it is drawn from “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but it is also intimately connected with the theme of the novel. Additionally, it conveyed a sense of menace and a darker storyline. Though I liked some of the other ideas, it was never a close call.

As for the third—and final—book in The Sanheim Chronicles, I already have the title picked out and it may be the best of the lot. Unless I find something better in my dreams.

Other Titles I Love:

What about you? Name some of your favorite titles in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Band of Demons, the sequel to Kindle bestseller A Soul to Steal, is finally here!

After more than a year of painstaking work, Band of Demons, the No. 2 book in The Sanheim Chronicles and sequel to A Soul to Steal, is finally out! You can buy it on Amazon here:

I say this in the acknowledgements, but I just want to thank everyone for their support for A Soul to Steal. Over the past year, I’ve heard from many of you on my Facebook page, Goodreads, Twitter and Amazon. You’ve asked questions, expressed support and written some truly generous and thoughtful reviews. It is no exaggeration to say it has kept me going at times when I’ve despaired of this whole endeavor.
Inevitably, when I was at a low point, a review would pop up or I’d get a posting on the Facebook page that helped restore my faith that this book was reaching its intended audience. It’s been quite a ride since I published A Soul to Steal, but your enthusiasm for the story and the characters have inspired me to keep going. This book simply wouldn’t be here without you.
I’ll hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it.
So what are you waiting for? Go buy it!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

FAQ: Band of Demons, the No. 2 Book in The Sanheim Chronicles

Since several people have asked me on the book’s Facebook page, I thought I would deliver an update on progress for the sequel to A Soul to Steal.

Q: When is Band of Demons coming out?
The release date is Tuesday, Oct. 2.

Q: So is it totally done?
As we speak, the final manuscript is in the copyediting stage. There is still work to do, but we’re really close. Barring some last minute disaster, Band of Demons should be ready on Oct. 2.  

Q: What’s the book about?
Do you really want me to tell you? I’m one of those people who dislikes reading jackets for books that I know I want to read because I’m afraid it will give away plot points. As a result, I’m reluctant to say anything in my own book description. I also have trouble boiling down my plots to a few succinct lines. Let’s put it this way: Band of Demons continues the story of Kate and Quinn and delves deeper into the legend of the Prince of Sanheim.

Q: What genre is it? Is it a mystery?
Yes and no. One of the driving questions of A Soul to Steal was: who is Lord Halloween? Because I feel sequels should be different and not rehash what worked in book #1, there is no equivalent question in Band of Demons. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a mystery, however. You may know which characters are committing certain acts—but you won’t know why. Overall, there are lots of twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end. If you liked the ending of A Soul to Steal, then I think you will enjoy the sequel.

Q: How long is the book?
There is a trend among indie authors to write short because we can crank out more books that way. While I agree wholeheartedly with this as a concept, unfortunately for me, I’m a tad verbose. Band of Demons is about the same length as A Soul to Steal, though I think it reads much faster.

Q: How much will it cost?
The price will be $3.99.

Q: Do I have to read A Soul to Steal to understand the next book?
I have specifically designed Band of Demons so that it reminds readers of what happened in A Soul to Steal. As a result, I suppose it’s possible that you could jump into book #2 without having read A Soul to Steal. That said, I don’t recommend it. You are likely to be at least a little confused and, more importantly, it will ruin all the important plot points from A Soul to Steal (like the identity of Lord Halloween, etc).

Q: Are you nervous?
Yes, very much so. As you might imagine, releasing a book is a strange endeavor. I’ve lived with this novel for most of the past year, thinking about it every single day. I’ve spent nearly all my free time working on it. As I get ready to release it I’m excited, but nervous too. It’s the same fear I had the first time: what if readers don’t like it?
The difference is that last time, nobody expected anything from the novel. When it was released, I had to work hard to convince anyone to give it a chance. Now I’ve received messages on my Facebook page, Amazon page and elsewhere asking when the sequel will be out. Don’t get me wrong—I live for those messages. But I’m also feeling the pressure. I hope fans of A Soul to Steal are as happy with Band of Demons. So yeah, I’m nervous.

Q: Anything we can do to help?
Please spread the word! I’m really looking forward to releasing this into the wild. Just like A Soul to Steal, this is the perfect novel for Halloween, so now will be a great time to read it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cover and Title Reveal for the Sequel to Kindle Ghost Bestseller A SOUL TO STEAL

It’s interesting which dates are significant to a person. For me the obvious ones are: my family’s birthdays, my wife and my anniversary, Halloween, Christmas and now Aug. 29.
Why today?
Because that was the day my first novel, A Soul to Steal, went live on Amazon’s Kindle. That was the day I became a published author.
I’ll be honest, I’d dreamed of that day for a long time, but it happened differently than I had imagined. I always thought it would come after painstakingly convincing an agent to represent me—and then convincing a big publishing house to give my book a shot.
Instead, it happened after I pressed a few buttons on Amazon’s extremely user-friendly system and sent my novel—ten years in the making—out into the world.
In the year since, it’s been exhilarating and more than a little exhausting. I have learned a ton, both about marketing a book and writing one. And let me tell you, writing one is a lot more fun.
In an ideal world, I would have launched the sequel to A Soul to Steal today, if for no other reason than the universe loves synchronicity and so do I. But alas, I’m in the final stages of polishing the manuscript and I’m not ready to let it out into the harsh light of day quite yet.
But I should do something to mark the occasion, right? So here it is: the cover art and title for my forthcoming novel, the second volume in The Sanheim Chronicles.  I want to thank everyone who has asked me about the sequel and expressed interest in buying it. Without your kind words, reviews and encouragement, this would not have happened. I also want to thank Travis Pennington, the cover artist, who I hope you agree did some fantastic work here.

Without further ado, here it is. Please let me know what you think: 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I is for Ignorant: How Sue Grafton Hates Indie Writers

As a political reporter, nothing is more tiring than watching a politician say something he or she truly believes, then issue a forced apology when the backdraft becomes too unpleasant.
But it is even worse to watch a bestselling novelist engage in that kind of behavior.
By now, many of you have already heard about mystery novelist Sue Grafton’s interview two weeks ago with the, in which she advised writers to avoid self-publishing at all costs and then proceeded to denounce any who have gone that route.
“Don’t self-publish,” she says. “That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.”
And that was just the beginning of Grafton’s obnoxious tirade. After interviewer Leslea Tash challenged Grafton, she opined further:
 “The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish… To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not a quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. Oops, you already did.”
Grafton’s comments sparked outrage from the indie author community who, quite understandably, didn’t like being called “lazy wannabes.”
But Grafton was just the latest in a long string of prominent traditionally-published authors to criticize the burgeoning indie movement. John Grisham, who once sold his books out of the back of his car in an effort to get noticed, essentially said indies are the scum of the Earth. Jodi Picoult, meanwhile, provided this piece of “advice” to writers (emphasis hers): “DO NOT SELF PUBLISH.”
As a result of the pushback, Grafton waited a week and then issued an apology: “I’d appreciate a chance to clarify the remark I made in the recent interview you posted.  I meant absolutely no disrespect for e-publishing and indie authors.”
She goes on at some length trying to justify her remarks by saying, a) she didn’t really know what she was talking about and b) she had incorrectly assumed indie publishing was the same as vanity publishing.
While it’s good that she felt the need to respond, it’s worth noting that this apology is actually missing a, you know, apology. She calls her remarks a “gaffe” and—much like every politician I’ve ever seen after they made a mistake—says she wants to “clarify” her remarks. But she does not actually say she was sorry or, more tellingly, that she was wrong.
Indeed, it seems likely that the non-apology apology was just a way to recover from the public relations problem her statements had created.
Her initial comments, meanwhile, say a great deal about Grafton’s attitude toward indie writers. In short, we are hacks. We don’t know how to write books, spend no time trying to learn, but take our crap stories to the market without regard to the basic rules of narrative, dialogue, characters or plot. We are, to use her metaphor, children who want our crayon scribbles on paper to be regarded as the same kind of high art she produces.
If we can actually write a good book, she says, the traditional publishers will find and promote us: “If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid.”
The arrogance reflected in Grafton’s comments is truly awe-inspiring. It’s clear that she believes that: a) all good writers will get traditional book contracts and b) anyone who doesn’t isn’t a good writer.
Nothing in her apology in any way backtracks from those views. But they are clearly incorrect. Yes, there are plenty of bad self-published books. But there are awful books among the traditionally published as well. The idea that indie authors do not know how to “construct a narrative and create character” is demonstrably untrue.
I read mostly indie novels now and I’ve found some fantastic books, including “Mercury Falls” by Rob Kroese, “The Darkening Dream” by Andy Gavin, “On the Island” by Tracey Garvis Graves, “Devil’s Hand” by M.E. Patterson and “Wool” by Hugh Howey.
Those books feature great characters, interesting plots, and well-constructed narratives—and the “Universe” did not come to their aid. In all cases, they decided to STOP waiting for the Universe to come to them and seize their own destiny. Some of those writers have made it big, but others are still waiting to break through.
The idea that indie authors are “lazy” is also insane. If anything, we work harder than traditionally published novelists. When she’s done with a book—no matter how long she works on it—she has a team of people ready to edit, design a cover and plan a marketing campaign. Indie authors do all that themselves.
Candidly, I’ve seldom worked so hard as in the past year. I have a full-time job as a journalist that I must keep to support my family and—in my free time—I have tirelessly marketed my first book while simultaneously writing my second. During that time, I’ve mastered the art of the Facebook ad and spent thousands of my own money promoting the book. I’ve done blog tours, entered contests, been on radio programs, and found my way into the local newspaper. Trust me, that took work.
As for the writing itself, I slave over it. I’m not tossing off dreck and throwing it on to Amazon’s KDP. I’m not even writing a short novella and selling it, which I would do if I had any sense. No, I plot, write, edit and edit again. And while my wife (who also writes and edits professionally) is my editor, I guarantee you she is harder on me than Grafton’s editor is on her. There is not a scene or line of dialogue that we have not discussed how to improve. So I get pretty upset when Grafton essentially tells me that I don’t “read, study or do research.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity Amazon and other ebook publishers have given me. My novel has been downloaded tens of thousands of times—a thought that makes me giddy just thinking about it. But don’t for a moment assume it was easy.
And I’m just one many. There are thousands of indie authors out there working as hard as I am, if not harder, to find their readership. I see them all the time—on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts. The vast majority of writers I come across are pouring their heart and soul into it, trying to find a way to rise above the noise and get noticed.
Yet Sue Grafton dismissed all of us out of hand. We are, to her mind, beneath her.
In her apology, she says, “I am not arrogant or indifferent to the challenges we all face.”
Yet that is exactly what she seems to be. As noted in this Forbes piece and in the comments on this stellar Indie Reader take on the same subject, you don’t normally see other industries attacking each other in this way. Does James Cameron take time out of his day to slam indie directors? Does Green Day stop to criticize any band that made a demo in their basement? Of course not.
Yet Grafton and her ilk seem to think it’s okay to spit all over us.
What she doesn’t realize—but perhaps understands now—is that indie authors really are the wave of the future. The ebook revolution is the cosmos’ way of evening the score, of letting readers decide what is worth reading rather than a handful of large publishers.
We’ve got good stories to tell and finally the Universe—in the form of Amazon, Smashwords and others—has come to our aid.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Soul to Steal is now on Nook, Kobo at NO COST

So I recognize I haven't been keeping up with this blog, and for that I apologize.

Truthfully, I've been hard at work on the sequel to A Soul to Steal, which is coming out.... soon. Very soon, I hope. There are revisions to be completed, copyediting to be done, but we're almost there. A few folks have read it and so far, the response has been tremendous. I'm very excited.

To celebrate it's pending arrival, I've expanded A Soul to Steal to Nook and Kobo. That's right, I'm no longer under the exclusivity arrangement with Amazon (Don't worry, Kindle, I will always love you). Furthermore, I've made the book totally FREE for both Nook and Kobo readers. Hopefully, we'll see it on iTunes and Diesel and anywhere else eBooks are sold soon enough.

If you have a Nook, you can download it here:
If you have a Kobo, you can download it here:
If you have anything else, you can download it from Smashwords (for free) here:
For those who haven't downloaded it for Kindle yet, it's just 99 cents on Amazon:

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is My Book A Success Yet?

In terms of book sales, June has been a crappy month. In fact, it’s easily going down as the worst month in A Soul to Steal’s nine month history as a published work, including when I first beta-launched it last September.
After a blockbuster February and March, book sales have steadily dropped off, only to collapse completely when Amazon changed its algorithms around May 1. I’m hardly the only one to whom this has happened. Author’s blogs are filled with similar stories. Some wonder openly if this is the end of “indie” authors, whether Amazon—probably unintentionally—has killed us off.
I’ve struggled with this question, only to conclude that the answer really doesn’t matter. The real question is this: why did I publish my book in the first place?
I did it so I could tell stories to other people. Years ago, I wrote a good book. I consistently believed that if I could put it in people’s hands, they would enjoy it. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Program gave me a chance to test that theory. Sure, I had dreams that it would be a runaway bestseller, storming the charts and allowing me to launch my career as a novelist. But in my heart, I knew that wasn’t likely.
So I set a realistic goal for myself: if I sold 1,000 copies, I would consider the book a “success.” I passed that goal in early January, not quite four months after the novel first went on sale. But I wasn’t satisfied.
See, I have a problem with the notion of “success.” If A Soul to Steal was selling in the Top 100 Kindle books, I might reasonably conclude it was successful. But barring that, I have no idea what my parameters should be. How many sales are enough? Should the book always sell well, or should it wax and wane? How come I’m not selling like Fifty Shades of Grey?
In the past couple months, I have checked the sales figures and despaired. Has this book gone as far as it can? What if this is the end? Does that make the book a failure?
A friend of mine asked me recently, “Aren’t you just amazed at how well the book has done? Do you ever sit back and think, ‘Wow! I did it’?”
I stared at him like he was an alien. I never once had that thought. Not once. When people congratulate me on how well the book has done, I inwardly assume they are kidding—or worse, they don’t really know what “success” is in this business. After all, no one is buying movie rights. And it’s not like publishers are beating down my door to offer me a six-figure advance.
But I think I’m the one who needs to change my definition of success.
To help me, I decided to total up some statistics. To date, I’ve sold more than 3,800 copies of the book and had it borrowed around 250 times. During the book’s free days, an additional 35,925 people have downloaded it. All told, A Soul to Steal has been bought, borrowed or downloaded to more than 40,000 Kindles.
During its run, it has hit multiple Kindle bestseller lists, including #1 for Ghost-Horror and #4 for Horror. It was the thrill of a lifetime to see my book sitting alongside Stephen King’s latest novel, even if it was only briefly. It has even been in the top 20 for Thriller and Suspense novels.
I have sold books in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. I received a note from a gentleman in Romania who said he enjoyed the book and wanted me to write a sequel quickly.
The novel was well reviewed by the vast majority of book bloggers who read it, won praise from random strangers on its Facebook page, and been featured on USA Today. It has earned an average 4.7 rating on Amazon with 88 reviews—all but three of which were 4 or 5 stars. It even earned a celebrity endorsement from Mark Metcalf, the actor who played The Master on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Best of all, I’ve had dozens of people I’ve never met not only compliment the book, but ask me when a sequel will be out (It’s coming soon, I swear).
For me, that is the best sign of all. Not only did people like the book but, God help me, they want me to write more. If the goal was to pen a runaway best seller, then it’s clear I have not succeeded. On the other hand, if the goal was to find and connect with readers, then I think it’s time to lean back and say, “Wow! I did it.”

P.S. As a final hurrah for hitting 40,000 downloads, A Soul to Steal will be free one last time TODAY (Wednesday, June 27). If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Real Reason I Self-Published: A Horror Story

When I was a kid, I played a strange mental game. Several days before a trip away, I would imagine that a monster was out there in the darkness, stalking me.
 Each night he would grow closer and closer and closer until finally… he would arrive at my house to find I had left. Howling in frustration, the vile creature would then sniff the air and begin the long journey to wherever I was visiting. But just as he was about to arrive there… surprise! I’d be gone again, usually back home.
I’m not sure what started the game or how I could overlook the glaring logical fallacy that was part of it. Why didn’t he just wait in my room until I got back? Was he on a deadline or something?
The funny thing is: I barely remembered this game until I started thinking about this column. I couldn’t figure out why it even came up in my memory—and then it all clicked.
I get asked a lot why I self-published my novel or whether I’m actively seeking a traditional publisher (I’m not). I can offer you plenty of logical reasons: the indie label has become more acceptable, the agent querying process was taking too long and the economics of delivering a self-published work have dramatically changed with the development of the ebook. All of these are good, true answers.
But they aren’t the main one—at least not for me.
The truth is I’m running out of time.
Writing novels was something I always wanted to do. In many ways, I feel it is the thing I was born to do. Like many other writers, I am sometimes only 50% engaged in actual real life—there are always stories playing out in my head and they can be rather distracting. Yet for something I genuinely enjoy and view as my destiny, I have wasted a tremendous amount of time NOT doing it.
We can partly blame the traditional publishing houses for this. I finished the first draft of A Soul to Steal in 2001, and had reworked it substantially by 2004. But when it came time to try to publish it, I realized I was up against a vast black wall that was so dark I couldn’t see through it, and so high and wide that I never saw the end of it. It wasn’t that publishers were rejecting the novel—I never even got to that stage of the process. I couldn’t even get agents to read it. It was so disheartening that when my life got busy—kids, more challenging job—I just directed my focus elsewhere.
But it would be a mistake to blame this mostly on the Big Six publishers. I think we all know who the real person to blame is—and I see him in the mirror every day.
It’s true I couldn’t see a way to publish A Soul to Steal. I invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that book, and it was going nowhere. But rather than persisting in writing, I gave up. Some of my distractions were legitimate, like my family. Some were definitely not, like trying to reach 100% completion in the single-player mode of Red Dead Redemption.
Two things woke me up from my stupor. The first was reading about Amanda Hocking’s success in publishing her books on Kindle. The second was watching my dad’s progressive deterioration from Alzheimer’s.
I don’t want this to become another post about this, but my dad was diagnosed when he was 63. At the time, he could blog and still carry on a conversation, but writing was difficult. Fast forward six years, and even talking coherently is a challenge for him. It’s been incredibly hard on my mother, my sister and myself, but it has also unfortunately represented something else: my future.
My dad’s mother had Alzheimer’s. Of her sisters who lived long enough, they all succumbed to the disease. The odds that I will eventually get Alzheimer’s are extraordinarily high. When I see what my father has become, I weep for him, but I am also terrified for myself. His mother was diagnosed at 74. He was diagnosed at 63. For some reason doctors can’t explain, people are getting the disease younger and younger.
So if this is my fate—if I’m even fortunate enough to avoid all the other things before then that could kill me, like cancer or a runaway lumber truck on a highway—it’s possible, even likely, that I will be diagnosed even earlier than my father.
Which leaves me wondering: how much time do I have? I’m 37. Can I make it another 26 years until my dad’s age? Or will it be more like 20? 15? 10?
So the decision to self-publish was ultimately an easy one.
I could sit on the sidelines and wait, hoping that somehow I would break through that huge barrier in front of me and score a traditional book contract. But would that ever happen? And how old would I be if it did?
Or I could publish my book, roll the dice that readers would find it and enjoy it, and try to make my dream come true. I looked at the number of years I might have left and decided to focus on doing what I believe I was meant to do.
I read somewhere once that there comes a time when you realize the distance between who you are and who you want to be becomes an insurmountable gulf. I wanted to leap that chasm before it became too wide.
I decided to self-publish because I understand now that the monster I pretended was hunting me when I was a kid wasn’t made up. It’s real and it has a name. It’s called mortality. And it has teeth.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Soul to Steal Now Topping the Fantasy Charts: The Benefits of Genre Hopping

I’ve written before about the difficulty of deciding what genre A Soul to Steal belongs in. It’s a mystery that turns into a thriller that then turns into an urban fantasy. Along the way, it contains elements of action adventure and romance to boot.
            For the most part, readers have been excited about the blend of genres, although I’ve also made a few angry in the process. Why? Some were excited about the mystery part of the book but didn’t enjoy it when supernatural elements entered into the plot line. This is a legitimate complaint as far as I’m concerned. If you don’t like the supernatural, the book probably isn’t for you.  
I thought putting the Headless Horseman on the cover was a sign that paranormal elements were included—and I’ve made sure to mention those parts of the book in the description on Amazon—but clearly some didn’t get the message.
            But there are also benefits to genre hopping as well. I originally slotted the novel into Horror/Ghost and Horror/Occult, although I never really felt comfortable about the latter as a category. When I re-launched the book with a new cover in February, I also decided to take it out of Occult and move it to Mystery/Thriller/Suspense. As I detailed here, Amazon doesn’t make it easy to find Horror books in less you specifically go looking for them. Mystery and Thriller, in contrast, is the easiest genre to find.
            But after some of the issues raised in reviews, I started to wonder if Suspense was the best space for the book. Yes, it’s a mystery and a thriller, but it’s also what’s defined as “urban fantasy,” mostly because of the paranormal parts of the novel (which become more significant as the book nears its climax).
            At this stage, I’m also worrying about the two sequels to A Soul to Steal. The second book in The Sanheim Chronicles is in its draft stage—and it fits much easier into urban fantasy than it does mystery. I think fans of the first book will definitely enjoy it—but I also would like all the novels in the series to be sitting in the same place.
            So I decided to try something new during my latest free day promotion on Amazon. I took the novel out of Suspense and moved it to Contemporary Fantasy, hoping to find fans that might not have seen it when it was slotted elsewhere.
            I’m happy to say that so far, at least, it’s paying off. Currently, the book is #1 among FREE fantasy books on Amazon. It’s also #1 in Contemporary Fantasy (Amazon’s description for urban fantasy). I admit it is a thrill to see the novel alongside George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
            I don’t know, of course, what the result of this experiment will be. Will readers be angry to find a mystery in their urban fantasy novel? I hope not, but you never really know.  But seeing other books in the category, it’s feeling like A Soul to Steal may finally have found its perfect spot.
            Want to find out yourself? The novel is FREE today, May 17, so feel free to download it. If you missed out and are reading this post later, never fear – the novel only costs $2.99, so it’s cheaper than a trip to Starbucks. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Novel is Being Featured on USA Today! “An edge-of-your-seat thriller!”

Wanted to share the fantastic news. Over the weekend, USA Today Books featured a terrific review for my novel, A Soul to Steal. Calling it an “edge-of-your-seat thriller,” reviewer Keri English says the novel will keep “you up into the wee hours” and touts its “nice surprise ending.”

“Rob Blackwell introduces the reader to fear in an innovative way: right from the start. A Soul to Steal is simply scary. With the combination of an ancient Celtic myth and the legend of the Headless Horseman, Blackwell's story is a leave-the-light-on kind of page turner….If you like suspenseful thrillers, check out A Soul to Steal.

Read the rest of the extensive review here:

Buy the book here:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self -- Advice I Wish I Could Give Myself on Love, Writing, and Growing Up

A college friend of mine, Betsy, asked a few people she knew to write a letter to their 16-year-old selves. Here's what I came up with:


I have a few things I need to tell you. Some will be really awesome (your wife is hot) and some will be hard (your dad is going to get Alzheimer’s much sooner than you, he, or anyone, is expecting), but these are things I think you would want to know:

  1. Stop Chasing that Girl
You know who I’m talking about and it’s totally cool. There is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. You are giving it your best shot, but it isn’t going to work out. Ironically, the strategy you are pursuing is a great one. You are trapped in the “friend” zone. This is a terrible place to be in high school. It is, however, exactly where you want to be later in life. The problem isn’t your approach; it’s just not the right time or person. So don’t be discouraged and don’t worry so much about it.

  1. Buy a Tape Recorder
You don’t know this now, but you are a pretty good reporter. I know, right? You aren’t even interested in journalism and the idea of calling people you don’t know makes you sweat. It’s okay. You are actually surprisingly good at asking the right questions to the right people.
By the time you figure this out, though, you will have lost the chance to interview some crucial sources. You need to buy a tape recorder and interview your grandparents extensively on your next visit to them. You want to learn as much as they can tell you about their lives. This is important for learning who they are, but also for understanding more about where you and your parents came from.

  1. Spend More Time With Your Parents
Your dad is going to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in about 15 years. The incredibly intelligent and gregarious guy you see right now? Enjoy him while you can, because he will disappear bit by bit until you have trouble remembering him. I’m sorry, but there isn’t a damn thing you can do about this. What you can do is set aside more time to hang out with him—and your mom. This is going to take a toll on her, too. This is a great time to be around both of them, so please enjoy it.

  1. Stop Listening to Aerosmith
Right now. Later, you will refuse to throw out the 3-CD box set of “Pandora’s Box” because your dad gave it to you as a surprise gift, NOT because you ever want to listen to it.

  1. Apply Early-Admission to William and Mary
I don’t know why you didn’t, but honestly, you never wanted to go anywhere else. Going here is a great choice—might as well lock it in right now.

  1. Dream Bigger
You have a lot of hopes and dreams, but you have a tendency to worry about what’s “realistic.” Please stop. I know people think you want to be an actor—even you may think this—but you don’t. You do, however, want to write, and you’re largely afraid to admit this. You’ve been writing stories since the sixth grade and tucking them away, never showing them to anyone. You spend 50 percent of your time living in your imagination, thinking about novels you never even plan on writing. You have this strange idea that someone will come up to you and offer you a writing contract. I’ve got news for you: you are going to have to do this on your own. Don’t be too worried, though: it’s going to be fine. But you need to stop being intimidated about writing a book. Stephen King started when he was 17 years old. You should get a jump on him. Oh, and don’t worry about getting it published. Technology and a company named after a river in South America are going to solve that problem for you. Just focus on writing.

  1. You Already Know Who You Are
If you ignore everything else in this message, I want you to know this: You are just fine as you are. I know you think you’re a nerd. But believe it or not, nerds are cool now. The last Star Trek movie was a huge hit, people love Lord of the Rings and there is a popular TV show about dorks. Weird, I know. It doesn’t matter anyway. You like to pretend that you don’t care what people think of you. It’s time to stop pretending. You will be much happier.


Your 37-Year-Old Self 

That's my letter. For Betsy's, check out her blog here: What would you write to yourself if you had the chance? 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Genre #AtoZChallenge

This is a guest post on The Masquerade Crew

Aside from a book’s title and cover, its genre is the most important factor in how it is marketed to and discovered by readers. 

Of course I never considered this when I wrote my novel. When I started A Soul to Steal, I thought I was writing a horror novel. That’s about as much thought as I put into it. I never considered that horror meant different things to different people. I was quite comfortable being in the same category as Stephen King, my literary hero, and that’s all there was to it. 

This was a mistake, one I didn’t realize until I had actually published the book. 

Looking back, I had unnecessarily pigeon-holed my book, sticking it in a category that it belonged in, but also limiting its reach and marketability at the same time. Here’s why: 

To read more of this post, please go to the Masquerade Crew here:

Friday, April 6, 2012

Loudoun County and my Southern Identity Crisis

When I heard about the chance to be part of a “Southern Book Tour,” I jumped at the chance. After all, I was raised in Virginia, my novel is set in the state, and I have always considered myself a Southerner.
And yet…
The place I write about—Loudoun County, Va.—and I both have a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to being part of the South.
While outwardly I qualify, I’ve never really been sure if I’m part of the club or not. On the one hand, my credentials are strong. For starters, there’s my name: Robert E. Blackwell—or R.E.B. With initials like that, my parents were definitely trying to send a signal. 

To read more, hop on over to the Bound and Determined Book Blog, which is on a Southern Book Tour -- and also enter for your chance to win A Soul to Steal... 

Here's the link:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dreaming of Death—A Mysterious Building, An Elevator, and a Prophetic Nightmare

Since I published my novel seven months ago, I’ve had my fair share of questions. Since it’s a book with a large paranormal element to it, I’m most often asked if I believe in ghosts or if I’ve ever had an encounter with one.
Although I’ve interviewed people who have seen ghosts, I can’t claim to have ever seen one myself. But I must have some kind of personal paranormal story, right? Something weird? Something that made me suspect that the world isn’t exactly as it seems?
Like most of us, I have a few. I can tell you about the time I performed a Tarot card reading—and was far more accurate than I wanted to be. Or the time I refused to go into a friend’s basement for reasons I couldn’t explain, only to find out much later it had been the scene of a grisly murder.
But I think I’d rather tell you about one of the times that I dreamed of my own death.
I was in the 7th Grade when we visited BlackstoneVa., with my church youth group as part of a large retreat. Though I had often been away from home as part of the Boy Scouts, the trip was exciting for two reasons: 1) there would be indoor plumbing as well as easy access to Mountain Dew, and 2) there would be girls with us.
Here’s the strange part of the story. From the moment I walked into the place where the retreat was held—and I had never stepped foot in there before—I knew exactly what the layout would be. I knew where the stairs were, the rooms were, what the décor would be like, and basically how to find my way around.
It was very odd. When I walked inside, the entire place felt familiar. Like I had not only been there before, but spent significant time exploring every nook and cranny. This wasn’t something I kept to myself. As soon as we walked inside, I told my friends I had—somehow—seen this place before. I had a friend walk ahead of me, with me telling him what he would find around every corner (before I could see it). Everything was exactly where I said it would be. 
It was only then that I remembered the dream. As is often the case with me, I don’t remember my dreams in the morning: something has to trigger the recollection for me. When I was younger, this was really easy—I’m sad to say it’s much harder now.
Walking around the building and giving my friends an advance guided tour triggered the memory of the dream. In the dream, I had been walking around the inside of a strange place. It was big, empty and spooky. I wandered all around until I came to a hallway off to the left. When I turned the corner, I saw a large trash bin on the right side and a white elevator at the end of the hall. I waited there a moment, not sure what to do, but with a growing sense of dread.
In the dream, the elevator suddenly “dinged” open and when it did, a gust of wind swept down the hallway. The trash bin immediately was pulled into the elevator, which was now a giant, gaping hole. I grabbed the corner of the wall, but everything else was being pulled into the elevator—the pictures on the walls, the carpeting on the floor, everything. Finally, after holding fast for what felt like several minutes, I couldn’t hold on any longer. I was sucked into the elevator too—my last thought before plunging into the darkness was that this would kill me.
Back in real life, I stood there on the first floor of the building and recounted the dream to my friends. Some thought I was lying, others thought that perhaps I had visited the building before (I hadn’t). But one friend agreed to go exploring with me. I had to know: was the elevator in here? And what would happen if I found it?
When we got to the second floor, we crept cautiously through the halls. I knew just where to go, just where the elevator would be. Sure enough, we came to a hallway on the left. We rounded the corner. There on the right side of the hall was the trash bin, just as it had been in my dream. At the end of the hall was the white elevator.
The thing that scared me the most wasn’t that everything in my dream existed in the real world. What was most frightening to me was that there was no one else in that hallway, but the elevator call button—the one you press to make the elevator come to you—was lit up. Just as I registered what it was, I heard the “ding” and the elevator door slid open.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I ran. I ran like hell, with my friend close behind me. Once safely back to the group, we told them everything. Even though a few made fun of me, I noticed everyone studiously avoided the elevator from that time on, convinced it was a dangerous trap. During that retreat, I never set foot in the elevator—nor, for that matter, got anywhere near the hallway.
So what did it all mean? If I had stepped into the elevator, would something have happened? Did I somehow pick up on some terrible history of the place?
If this were a novel, I could tell you. I’d tell you the secret hidden past of the elevator and how a boy 20 years earlier had vanished near that very spot. I’d tell you how many kids who come to that place have the same terrible nightmare, and how a few even hear the voice of a young boy calling to them as they walk near the hallway.
But truthfully, I don’t know the answers. How could I dream of a place where I had never been? And why did I dream about an elevator that, as far as I know, was perfectly normal? Two years later, when my group returned to that retreat, I took a dare and rode the elevator. I’m still here.
But I will tell you this. When the door shut on me and I was alone in the elevator, I was never more afraid in my life. And I’ve honestly never felt the same about any elevator ride since.
So that’s my real-life paranormal story. What about you? Have any insights into my dream? Have you had any dreams that came true? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Top Nine Reasons to Buy A Soul to Steal (Revised and Expanded)

By far the worst part about publishing a book is that, instead of leaning back in a comfy chair with a pipe and watching the sales roll in, you have to really hustle to sell it. Sure, Stephen King doesn’t have this problem, but if you are a new author like me starting out, it’s tough to make an impression.

So, at the risk of being crass, I’d like to take this opportunity to convince you to take a chance on a newbie author. I think you’ll like my novel, A Soul to Steal. How can I say that? Why do I think you would like the book? Let me count the ways:

9. You won’t guess the killer
I never set out to write a mystery, instead thinking I was writing a suspense/thriller. But a key question overhangs the book: who is Lord Halloween, the elusive serial killer who targets Leesburg, Virginia? When I wrote the novel, I worried everyone would figure it out. But I’ve been told by virtually every person who read the book that they had no idea who it was (the sole exception is my sister, but of course older sisters know everything). Yet I didn’t pull a cop-out, either. The novel does not end with me suddenly introducing a random new character who turns out to be the killer (“Look Scoob, it’s old man Winters who runs the haunted amusement park!”). Think of this as a challenge: if you figure out who the murderer is, you will be in the top echelon of elite readers.

8. The price is right
I understand that people might not want to take a risk with a new author. When you buy a Dean Koontz or Jim Butcher, you know you are getting quality. But at $2.99, my novel costs about as much as a cup of coffee. And it lasts so much longer! Your coffee is done within 10 minutes. But this book, at over 100,000 words, lasts as long as you want it to. Unfortunately, just like coffee, the novel may keep you up at night.

7. Instant indie cred
If I become a mega best-selling novelist one day, you can tell all your friends you read my book before I made it big. “I discovered him first,” you’ll say. Then you’ll go on to detail all the ways in which I’m no longer as good as I once was and I’ve become too commercial. “He sold out,” you’ll say, with your friends nodding sagely. “He used to be original, but ever since he wrote A Soul to Steal and Zombies, it just feels like his heart isn’t in it.”

6. It’s a fascinating look at your local paper
One thing I’ve been surprised to hear is how much readers enjoy the setting at a local community newspaper in Loudoun County, Va. I’ve been a journalist my entire professional career, including working at several local papers, one in Leesburg. The setting feels authentic because it is. I worked at that paper for three years and learned a lot about being a reporter at a small town newspaper. I also came to love Loudoun County. It is a place rich in history and atmosphere and I wanted it to be as much a character in the novel as anyone else.

5. It has great reviews
Please don’t just take my word for it that the novel is any good. As of this writing, there are 59 great reviews (including 49 5-stars) for the novel on Amazon. Can 49 5-star reviews be wrong? Actually, don’t answer that. I’m sure 49 people have been collectively wrong about lots of things in the past. There are probably 49 people who believe the world is flat and that the Jersey Shore is quality television. But still, in this case, they aren’t wrong.

4. It has the Headless Horseman
Since I was a kid, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been one of my favorite stories. I’ve always loved the Headless Horseman, one of the scariest figures in American horror. I’ve built an original novel that uses the Horseman—but doesn’t repeat the characters or plot of Washington Irving’s classic tale. This is not “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Zombies,” though now I would like to officially trade-mark that title for future use. In all seriousness, I’ve found a unique way to use the Horseman. This isn’t a half-baked sequel or knock-off.

3. It’s surprisingly funny
I am not a terribly serious person. So despite the fact that the novel involves a serial killer, the Headless Horseman, an ancient Celtic myth and a bunch of innocent people dying, it also has a fair amount of humor. One consistent feedback I’ve received is that my characters are well-developed and likeable. For example, Janus, who provides much of the comic relief, has proven to be one of the most popular characters in the book.

2. It’s scary, but not gory
The novel is a mix of mystery, suspense and the paranormal, and technically falls under the Horror category on Amazon. If you like thrills and chills, the novel has plenty. But it’s not a gory book. If you are scared of words like entrails, spewing and mangled, you’re in luck! None of those words appear in the novel (although they do appear in this blog post, for which I now must apologize). I don’t like gore. It’s not that it bothers me, I just don’t find it interesting and it can ruin a perfectly good scary scene. Accordingly, you won’t find gore in A Soul to Steal.

1. The ending is “amazing.”
I could tell you a lot of things here, including that the book is an addictive page-turner or the first in a trilogy that promises to get even better as it goes on. But probably the novel’s best selling point is its ending. When I started writing A Soul to Steal, the ending is what I had in mind. Everything builds to that point. Yes, it’s part of a trilogy, but this is a complete book. I’m not trying to hold back for the sequel. This novel is carefully structured to lead to a satisfying conclusion—one you won’t see coming. But don’t take my word for it, read the reviews. Vanessa the Jeep Diva wrote: “When everything came together and all the pieces finally fell into place I was completely shocked. The ending was fantastic.”

So what are you waiting for? A Soul to Steal is a top-rated mystery/thriller with a supernatural twist. Buy it now and see what all the fuss is about.

If you want to find out more about the novel, find me on Facebook here:

Find me on Twitter at @hobbinb

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A chance to get 8 books for zero dinero—including mine.

The following is in reference to The Masquerade Crew:

Their adventure started a little more than six months ago. Since they posted their first author-requested review on October 1st, they're going to officially celebrate their six month blogaversary between now and April 1st, which is the first day of the A to Z challenge. They encourage you to come back for that because for 26 days in April they're going to post writing tips from some of their followers.

In the meantime, they're kicking off this party with a mega giveaway. Roughly half of the authors of their 5 star reviews have agreed to give away copies of their books. This is your chance to win up to 8 free books. Click on the book covers to go to their review.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How KDP Select Made Me a Bestselling Author

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of KDP Select. The first time I did a free promotional day, I was blown away at how many downloads the book received.  I was also pleased with the resulting sales a week later.

But that was nothing compared with my second experiment with free promotional days. Instead of building the suspense, let’s go straight to the numbers—and then I’ll explain why I had so many more sales the second time versus the first. Below is a chart of paid book sales for the first seven days after my free promotional event.

As you can see, the free promotion in February vastly outpaced the one in January. In January, I sold 73 books in a single day, at the time a record for A Soul to Steal. In February, I sold 351 books in a single day. I had two other days where sales topped 220. All told, I sold 246 books in the seven days after the free promotion in January—a number I was very pleased with at the time. In contrast, I sold 1,250 in the week after the February promotion. (Side point: I priced the book at 99 cents for two days following the January promotion, but I did not lower the price in February, leaving it at its regular $2.99.)

So, what changed? Why was it so much more successful the second time than the first? While I can’t say anything with certainty, I have a few educated guesses as to what happened.

1)                  The book got a new, more professional cover
Of all the factors, I believe this is the most significant. I liked my old cover, which you can still see here, but it screamed self-published. Accordingly, while folks had no hesitation in downloading it for free in January, they didn’t rush to buy it afterwards. Sure, it got a boost, but not nearly what it would have likely received had I changed my cover earlier. Please take note of this, indie authors. If sales aren’t where you would like them to be, your first thought should be to look at your cover. If it doesn’t look like a Big Six cover, it’s time to get a new one.

2)                  I ran the promotion for two days instead of one
Following the advice of several other authors, I ran my promotion across two days (a Tuesday and Wednesday), rather than just one. I’m a little unclear on exactly how much this helped, mostly because more than 10,000 people downloaded the book on the first day and “only” 5,000 downloaded it the next day. Still, given how much weight Amazon’s algorithms put on popularity, the combined downloads were enough to keep A Soul to Steal front and center in the Kindle store over the weekend. Had I just done a single day, I’m not sure that would have happened.

3)                  I engaged in market layering
In January, I stopped all advertising prior to the free promotion. I had been using Facebook ads successfully, but was hoping the KDP Select experience would free me from being dependent on them. In February, I wanted to follow Jeff Bennington’s advice and “layer” marketing following my free day promotions. (If you want more details on this strategy, check out Jeff’s excellent how-to guide “The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe” here). As a result, I turned on the Facebook ads again in a big way, spending $50 a day and using my two most successful ads that I had. I also used World Literary Café’s Social Media Mania to promote the book. It’s difficult to know how much impact this had individually, but it’s not a coincidence that the same day the promotion ran was also its most successful. A free excerpt received more than 2,000 hits on that day. Was it worth the $40? Easily.  Overall, Jeff is right. If you want to ensure your book’s success after using a free promotional day, your best chance is to layer on marketing as heavily as possible.

4)                  I changed my genre and hit several bestseller lists
If you look at the January numbers, you can see the boost in sales fell off rather quickly. After Day Five, they largely fell back into “normal” range. But after getting such large numbers in the initial days after the February promotion, my sales continued to be far stronger than normal for a much longer period. Even now, sales are decidedly better than prior to the free days. Why? Well, for starters, the novel hit #1 on Amazon’s Ghost bestseller list, and #4 on all of Horror. 
       Over that critical weekend, it also charted high on the Suspense, Thriller and even the very competitive Mystery and Thriller bestseller lists. This actually brings me to another point. In January, my book was slotted under Ghost-Horror and Occult-Horror. But in looking at the Kindle store, I felt like I was narrowly limiting the novel’s exposure. Yes, the novel qualified under Occult, but I was essentially doubling down on Horror. Honestly, I’ve never been entirely comfortable slotting A Soul to Steal there anyway. It’s a mixture of several genres, including mystery and thriller. Looking at similar novels by Blake Crouch and Joe Konrath, I decided to switch genres, abandoning Occult and moving to Suspense. This can be risky, and you must make sure you aren’t changing genres arbitrarily, but the novel truly fits under Suspense. As a result, I likely received more downloads on the free days from people looking for thrillers, and not necessarily horror books. And I definitely received more exposure by appearing on those bestseller lists. Once I was part of those lists, the book continued to receive higher than normal sales even after the initial boost from KDP Select was gone.

Nothing, of course, lasts forever. Although these numbers are very exciting and I continue to have higher-than-average sales, if you look at the bestseller lists, A Soul to Steal has largely tapered off. I also have no idea if this kind of success is repeatable. It’s possible that every free day brings less of a bump because so many people have already downloaded the book. I may look back at this as the novel’s high point.

But all in all, this experiment has been a gigantic success. I’ve had more positive reviews in the past week since the promotion than at any time since its initial publication. I’m receiving regular Facebook posts complimenting the novel. Beyond sales alone, the novel has clearly attracted more readers—many of whom are excited about a forthcoming sequel.

I can’t guarantee others will have the same experience. J.D. Currie has a nice round-up here of what others have reported, and it’s clear there is variance. But I will say this: Unless you are selling great numbers on Nook, iBook or Smashwords, there is no good reason not to try this route. It might not pan out, but if it does, you could find your novel is suddenly a bestseller.