The Great Serial Experiment

I have a little side project I’m going to be experimenting with while I work on other things. I’ve wanted to do a virus story for a long time, and I have been jotting down infrequent notes off and on for about a year. I’ve finally landed on an underlying premise for my story that I think is (hopefully) mostly unique.

With Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program, which allows readers to binge on unlimited Amazon-exclusive books for $8.99 a month (think Netflix for books), and with my propensity for writing roughly 20,000 word chunks before needing a refueling break, I finally hit on an idea that might work given enough motivation and planning:

A serial novel with steady, frequent releases, chock full ‘o cliffhangers like a television show, exclusive to Amazon (at least in the beginning).

Introducing Red Plague.

Red Plague Cover

There are multiple reasons why, in theory, this is a good idea.

  1. With Kindle Unlimited, qualifying books earn around $2 every time a reader gets to the 10% mark, even if the book is priced below $2. That means, for me to get the money, they don’t have to finish the full book, and I would still get multiple times what I would receive if the reader had just purchased the book outright for the asking price of 99¢. While I want them to finish, obviously, there is potential for earning money from readers who would never have gone on to the second episode anyway, yet gave the book a shot to the 10% mark. This feeds into the second reason, which is:
  2. Shorter books mean less effort to hit 10%. If you have a thousand page tome, hitting 10% takes a reader 100 pages. If you only have 50 pages, a reader has to slog through just 5 pages of your work before the little cash register sound effect plays in the background and you get paid. So, less effort to hit 10% = a greater chance more readers will hit the golden mark.
  3. Putting out a high-quality, full-length novel every one to two months is extremely hard, if not impossible, for me. I tend to favor quality over quantity, even though the opposite is a more proven, effective business model. By releasing novella-length works every three weeks or so, I can keep the quality level high because I am writing shorter episodes. Simultaneously, I am also publishing something new with high frequency.
  4. There is an entire group of readers, who, for reasons unfathomable, actually enjoy cliffhangers. And not just cliffhangers from chapter to chapter, because who doesn’t like those? I’m talking about cliffhangers between entire books. Certain readers thrive on them. It’s like a narcotic. I’m going to stop asking why and just do my best to make them happy, because it has turned out to be ludicrously profitable for some authors.

Serial novels are nothing new, but, in this day and age, they never seem to really catch on. There are of course exceptions to the rule, as some authors have turned serial writing into a successful business model. Yet, that requires a following, since a serial release is more like a limited-run, lightning-in-a-bottle event than an ongoing experience. Without preparation and without a loyal readership waiting to buy the books, the event is over before word can spread.

As you can imagine, the successes are few and far between. It seems like even Amazon has stopped pushing their own serial program. And there are some heavy obstacles in the way, promotion being the biggest. How do you promote a nascent series with no reviews, and when you, the author, only have the meager crumbs of a tiny newsletter following? Beats me. That’s why the first episode is on preorder for a month, so I can find the answers to those questions.

With all the potential negatives of publishing a serial, it might seem like a strange avenue for me to pursue. If the book were only ever going to be released in separate installments as novellas, you would probably be right. Well, you might even be right anyway. But still, even if the serial experiment fails, I can give this book a second life at some point in the future by combining the parts into a whole to create a complete story. And that complete story is another product to sell, and another way to be discovered by new readers. In other words, the only thing I am losing is a little bit of time by releasing them on a longer timeline. However, with this model, the release schedule suits my desire to publish more often without sacrificing quality, and on top of that, writing it so far has been a blast.

The first installment will be available on October 1st, with an episode every three weeks or so afterward until it’s done. You can preorder the book now on Amazon for 99¢, if that’s your thing, or you can grab it when it’s published. I doubt the price on the first episode will go up, but the subsequent episodes may be $1.99.

Oh, I almost forgot. If anyone would like a review copy, I only have a few little things to tweak with the first episode, and would be more than happy to send out a copy in exchange for an honest review on Amazon when the series begins publication on October 1st. Drop me a line at newsletter@sam-best.com if you’re interested.


Red Plague: Episode 1

People will change. Nations will fall.

A primordial virus unearthed at the heart of an erupting volcano… 

The storm of the century forming off the coast, ready to carry the virus across the globe… 

A world ripe for infection… 

What follows will unleash the greatest horror humanity has ever known.

Welcome to the end.


Preorder Links:

Discovery Through Story Research

They say to write what you know, but if I wrote what I knew, I would never have learned about two awesome little creatures called the tardigrade and the Pompeii worm (Wikipedia links).

(Photo credit: Wired.com)

Tardigrade (Photo credit: Wired.com)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pompeii Worm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These two little guys are extremophiles, which means they have unusually high tolerances for temperature. In the case of the tardigrade, it can survive just about anything you throw at it, including a decade of dehydration, freezing to one degree above absolute zero, and the vacuum of space. Oh, and they can also survive direct, unfiltered radiation from the sun, a radiation that would cook a human alive. So, they’re kind of tough, you know?

I’m doing research for a new project, and one of the characters is an evolutionary microbiologist (because why not, right?). It’s my job as a writer to create a passable facsimile of a person in said profession, or at least one that doesn’t ring abnormally false, even after a bit of scrutiny.

Enter the internet, that vast trove of everything that could either accelerate one’s destruction or open up a world of possibilities that before could only be uncovered with laborious trips to the local library or university. And to get to those places, we actually had to go…outside (dun dun DUNNNNN!).

Well, no longer. Now I can wear pajamas and read all about extremophiles like the uber-resilient tardigrade without suffering the disapproving looks of a librarian.

I also think the writing process is made more enjoyable when it’s a process of discovery, because a lot of that will transfer over to the reading process. I figure if I’m excited about the content, then readers will be as well.

Not Missing After All

I’m back from a long summer vacation to say that seeing a humpback whale jump out of the water in real life is not the same as seeing it on television. These things are so terrifyingly huge. I mean it. If it pops up out of the water and happens to look in your general direction, it seems like some crazy alien cannon is being swiveled in your direction.

Hold out your hand, palm down, fingers together like you’re going to slap someone. Now stick out just your thumb and pinky but keep your middle three fingers together. Turn your hand slowly, very slowly, angle it upward, and you’ll have some idea of the movement involved in a whale’s breach. Seawater spins off the tips of their outstretched pectoral fins. The whole thing only takes a second, but it is so epic in appearance that the image burns into your brain. Well, mine, anyway. We also caught it on video, in case the memory gets fuzzy over time.

So that’s all I have about whales. We saw those in Alaska. I also went to Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Scotland, Ireland, Washington, and Canada, and probably a couple other places I have already forgotten. There were some cool castles and some good food. A porcupine ate a small tree. That may have been my favorite. That and the whales.

As far as the writing thing goes, I’m going to stop planning things in advance since I always change my mind anyway. I guess what that mostly means is that I’ll stop posting on this website in regards to what my “plans” are for the near future. Understand that I have about a dozen books in my head at any one time screaming to get out, and by the time I finally give in and sit down to write one, I come up with a “better” idea and start all over again. So that’s unfortunate news for Alphashock fans, since that series is getting a slight nudge to the back-burner for the time being. Instead—and I can say this with certainty since I have already started the book—I will be continuing the Ashes and Hello Darkness story lines in book three of that “theme” trilogy. I’ll have it done in time for Halloween, because I’m going to make it as frightening as I can and that seems like a good date for that kind of thing.

I haven’t written a lick in more than two months due to the traveling, and it feels really good to fire up the old rusty knuckles once again. I always think I will lose the knack when I leave it for long periods of time. There are some aspects which need a bit more dusting than others, but I am always pleased that the most important aspect of the process—the discovery—is there waiting for me when I sit down. By discovery I mean the unexpected surprises that you can’t plan for and that don’t show themselves until you come right up on them, the kind that couldn’t be planned for no matter how hard you tried.

I’m pretty excited about the new story. It takes place about ten years after Hello Darkness, and features one of the main characters who survived that ordeal. Karen Raines was a deputy in the town of Falling Rock, Colorado, and she barely escaped in one piece. Now she has a set of twins, aged ten, from a father who wasn’t so lucky. If you remember what else happened to Karen near the end of the book, you will get an idea of one aspect of the new story. Here’s a hint: her kids were born with a little…something extra inside. When our new story kicks off, something comes to collect on what the kids should never have had in the first place. I hope I can make it righteously spooky, because as I said, I’m excited. I’ll be working to find a cover artist for it over the next few weeks, so I’ll try to remember to post an update here as the book progresses.

Adios.

New SciFi Crime Noir Novella

Book two of the Capital City crime series is available. I finished this novella sometime last year after I wrote the first installment in the series. After completely re-editing the first book to make it scifi and switching it from third person to first, there was no way of getting around doing the same thing for Dream Street. Since I’ll be on the road for the better part of three months, I thought it best to get all of my loose ends tied up and published, and that included the two books in this series, which were already written and just needed polishing. I hope to be able to write while I’m traveling, but I expect my creative expenditures will be limited to plotting. If that’s the case, at least I’ll be able to hit the ground running when I get back. I hope everyone has a lovely summer.

Dream Street Cover

Amazon US | UK

In a future where everyone is watched, how can a killer get away with murder?

Dream Street is a black scar on the face of Capital City. The downtown alley is a deathtrap for any citizen, good or bad, who wanders too close. When one of the city’s most beloved charity workers is found murdered at the entrance to the alley, Detective Jack Rose is sent a clear message from the new boss on the Street: anyone who interferes with the operation, dies. Jack soon learns it wasn’t just a single charity worker disrupting the Street’s illegal operations, it was a whole team, and they are all marked for death.

And just because Jack’s life should never be too easy, the upcoming Mayoral election has lit a fire under the Deputy Mayor, and he wants to gut Dream Street for the good of the people, and for his campaign—even if a murderer gets away in the process.

In a race against the clock, Jack and the other detectives of Capital City’s Fourth Precinct must find a way into the heart of Dream Street to catch a killer who will not stop until all of his enemies are dead and buried.


As with the first book, Dream Street will only be available on Amazon for the first three months. If any of you has a different brand of eReader, drop me a line at newsletter@sam-best.com and we can work something out.

New Cover For Ashes

It’s a bit of a tricky cover to figure out since the book is a jumble of several different genres, and I doubt this will be the last attempt. It was my first book, after all, so I hadn’t yet learned to root the story firmly in one genre and only allow minor elements of other genres to creep in at the edges. It kind of reminds me of a graphic novel, and I figured since I’ve had more than one person tell me my prose is very visual, I thought it was a good fit.

Ashes Cover

Amazon USUK

On the run from a violent mobster, Thomas Marks takes a job driving a mysterious boy halfway across the country. The job will provide enough money to settle his debts and then some…but at what cost?

The boy carries a jar filled with his brother’s ashes and claims they are the key to protecting all of mankind. He says a terrible war is on the horizon—an epic battle between good and evil that will affect the entire planet. What should have been a simple job becomes a fight for survival as Thomas and the boy are hunted down by an enemy possessed with otherworldly strength—an enemy that will stop at nothing to obtain the ashes, and kill anyone who gets in the way.

New Cover For Hello Darkness

I just finished redesigning the cover for my horror novel Hello Darkness for about the 20th time, and I think I’m getting closer to finished. Here is the latest iteration:

Hello Darkness Cover

The good people of Falling Rock, Colorado, are disappearing one by one. An ancient evil lurks in the valley below the town—an evil that preys not just on the bodies of its victims, but on their sanity as well… 

After the death of his wife, Ben Howard returns to his childhood home in the small town of Falling Rock. Along with his four-year-old daughter, he hopes to make a new life for his family, free from the painful memories that still haunt them both. 

But old memories die hard. Visions of Ben’s deceased wife follow him to Falling Rock—and that’s just the beginning. Something is hunting his daughter from the shadows, watching and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. 

As his world collapses around him, Ben must join with the few who remain to destroy a malevolent force that will not stop until it consumes every last human soul. 

New SciFi Crime Novella

Well, almost. Capital Heights was the title of a straight-up crime novella I briefly published last year. I just finished changing it from third to first person, and I also added a layer of science fiction. Think Blade Runner meets The Maltese Falcon. The original novella has been edited and expanded, and I think it’s a significant improvement over the last.

Hard Crime Cover

Amazon Link

I wrote book two in the series, Dream Street, last year as well. It is currently undergoing a massive update and will be available soon.

(If anyone purchased Capital Heights for an eReader other than Kindle, drop me an email at newsletter@sam-best.com and I’ll get you the new version. The novella will only be available on Amazon for at least the first three months because the promotional opportunities are infinitely more desirable. If and when the book gets more reviews, it will be easier to promote on platforms like Nook and Kobo.)

AlphaShock Release, Again!

The AlphaShock series is one of my main focus points this year, and to that end I have revamped the first 3 novellas, expanded them, added new characters and new action scenes, and released them as a complete novel.

AlphaShock Cover

Shiny new description:

A thousand years ago, we built the Border. It was meant to protect the United States from the growing threat of destruction in a world overrun by marauding warlords.

Yet some of the greatest threats lay within, and the protection came at a price. The crumbling government turned to the wealthiest families in the nation for help…families with voracious ambition and money to burn. Now these powerful families–known as Dynasties–use their influence to control the five remaining city-states in the country.

With the rise of the Dynasties came the creation of a new policing force. Known simply as The Company, it is subcontracted by the government to do everything in its power to maintain the peace. The division charged with regulating Dynasty law is called the Elite Task Forces. The most efficient and highly-trained of these units is Elite Task Force One.

Chicago, 3481.

When the son of the most powerful king in Chicago is charged with high treason and kidnaps the daughter and sole heir of a rival Dynasty, the city-state teeters on the brink of war. Elite Task Force One is ordered to bring her back alive before the ensuing violence rips the city apart.

As a madman holds the city by the throat, rumors begin to circulate of a warlord on the move–a warlord who, until recently, has held a tenuous truce with the encapsulated United States.

The soldiers in Elite Task Force One must risk everything to save not just the city, but an entire nation on the edge of chaos.

AlphaShock combines elements of military and high-tech science fiction to bring you an action-packed adventure full of futuristic weapons, vehicles, and gadgets.


 

It clocks in at almost 400 paperback pages. I’m pricing it at 99¢ for a little while, so if any of you are interested, please check out the links below. It takes 10 reviews on Amazon before I can start advertising properly, so the faster I get them, the faster more people can read the book! If anyone wants a free copy in exchange for an honest review on Amazon, shoot me an email at sam@sam-best.com and let me know what type of device you are using so I can get you the right file. For those of you who have already bought the short-lived combined version I released last year, this new one is in the same spot on Amazon, so hopefully the site will allow you to simply update your old file. If not, let me know and I’ll send you a new one.

Worlds

While I’m a supporter of National Pride and I think it’s a sentiment that is often ignorantly cast aside in favor of popular (or at least more vocal) opinion, I still have little interest in the Winter Olympics. On display are disciplined athletes performing at a higher level than most could ever hope to achieve, yet I’m still kind of peeved that it postpones the small handful of television shows I watch by several weeks. Shame on you, over-achievers, for not making it easy to indulge bad habits.

This got me thinking about the various cultures surrounding “things”. Many people have a “thing”, be it football, stamp collecting, painting, etc. Each of these things is a world unto itself, wherein there are heroes, villains, outcasts…stories. Worlds within worlds; branches leading to smaller branches, all growing from the never-ending tree trunk of life. What may look superficial at first glance is actually a culture steeped in tradition, often dating back hundreds of years. With the Winter Olympics, there isn’t just one sport to hold your attention. You could learn everything there was to know about bobsledding and yet know nothing about the history of the snowboard. There are endless worlds within our own, and they are each being explored by someone out there.

This, in turn, got me thinking about books. Every book is a world waiting to be explored. Think how many libraries are bursting with texts, each one a universe unto itself. It boggles my mind, and it throws so many layers of depth beneath an existence which is already satisfyingly deep. Enriching. That’s the word I’m looking for, I think.

So you winter athletes keep doing your thing, and you football players keep doing your thing, and you writers keep doing YOUR thing. Someone out there lives in your world. Who knows how many countless others will stumble in?

New Year, New Tactics

This is sort of an extension of my last post. I’ve decided to not be afraid to try new things with self-publishing in 2014. For example, I’ve already revamped all my keywords for my books across all platforms. If the books aren’t selling, I’m not doing something right, so I’m going to tweak them until they sell. This is an ongoing process, so it will keep me busy for quite some time.

I’m also going to revisit my covers. Bigger titles, bigger author name, relevant pictures, quality presentations—these are all things I want to strive for this year. Interestingly enough, I’m trying out something new with Ashes, my first novel, that is actually something quite old: it’s first cover. Ashes launched with a cover of my own creation, and while I and a few others liked it, I felt it was a little too ‘self-publishy’. Yet it still moved a few copies.

The main issue with Ashes is that it’s such a hard book to categorize in the space of a single cover. Three or four different genres are all fighting for the top spot, and it’s hard to represent them all in one compact space. I’ve smoothed out the rough edges and uploaded it to Amazon. When I get some real money, I’ll hand it right over to someone who can do a proper job.

I’ll be running a promo for the book sometime in the next couple of weeks, so we’ll see if the new (old) cover does anything the others couldn’t. It’s the one book whose cover I’ve never been quite happy with. Hopefully this solves that problem.

I’m not an expert, but I would advise other authors to do the same: if your books aren’t selling, shake it up a little. Don’t be afraid to change covers, keywords, even the blurb. If it isn’t selling anyway, you have nothing to lose. You may just land on something that takes it to the next level of sales.