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.

The New Year: 2014

One thing I’m finding out about myself as a writer is that no matter how hard I plan for the next book I’m going to write, I usually end up writing a different one. Something else I’m finding out is that I’m a very irregular blogger.

Ah, well.

Anyway, back to the subject. 2013 was a bit of a slow year for me, which is the exact opposite of what it should have been. I could blame it on any number of things, but the main issue was me. The period after you decide you want to be a professional writer but before you actually become one is this uncomfortable limbo where you feel like you should be doing a million different things to make it happen. Call it Schrodinger’s Career if you must—you’re a failure and a success at the same time until everything you’ve done (or haven’t done) comes together and reveals the outcome. You can’t force it, either, which is the damned hardest part. Waiting really gnaws at the bones. The best that I can figure to do is to lay as solid a foundation as possible, so even if I falter later on, there is no way I will ever completely collapse.

So, even knowing ahead of time that my next project is usually a spontaneous decision, I’ll speak briefly to what I would like to happen in the coming year.

I want my production schedule to be more rigorous than 2013, which means keeping a dedicated writing schedule and meeting a minimum daily word count goal. I have a few projects lined up. All of them are series, or at least linked to a series, because that’s how you get more readers (proven) and that’s how you sell more books (also proven). Turns out I can still write what I want without shunning what works (alliteration probably isn’t one of them, though).

I want to finish up my AlphaShock sci-fi action series. It was originally slated for eight or nine novellas, but after I finished the first three, I combined them into a novel and set the project aside. Now the plan is to complete the series by adding two more full-length novels, one each in February and March. Every time I promote the first book, I get positive results, which leads me to believe a completed trilogy could move some units.

By April I want to be starting one of two new series. Here is where my spontaneous project-choosing will kick in, because as far as I can tell, they are both equally viable for sales. One is an expansion of the universe for the two novels I have already written, Ashes and Hello Darkness. Everything written in that series to this point, including the three novels I would like to write in 2014, lead up to a huge world event that will be chronicled in yet another future series. I’m having a lot of fun weaving elements from each book into a larger tapestry that will be fully visible once all of the prequels have been written. Expect ordinary people fighting extraordinary evil yet again. The chronological final layout of that particular universe will look something like Upcoming 2014 Trilogy (1950s-70s) > Hello Darkness (late 80s) > Ashes (early 90s) > Final Future Trilogy (modern day).

The other series I want to write is in a whole new realm for me. It’s sort of a steampunk/dark ages/fantasy type of story that I’ve had tumbling around in my head for a long time. Think Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for setting, but with mechanical gadgets made by tinkers, a dark castle in the mountains, and really, really evil things out in the forests past the village. Something I may try with the first book is to run a campaign on Kickstarter to fund a fully illustrated special edition hardback of the first book (after it’s written), featuring one full-page color illustration for each chapter. The tone, setting, and style of the book would lend itself to that kind of presentation, plus it would be a lot of fun.

I won’t know which series will be written first until I finish AlphaShock, but I thought I would at least share an idea of what to expect from me in 2014. Hopefully I can stay disciplined and consistent, because from what I’m seeing, those are two of the biggest controllable factors to an indie author’s success.

Happy Holidays! See you next year.

Free Halloween Short Story

Here’s a short, spooky story just in time for Halloween! A skeptical paranormal counselor gets more than he bargained for when he visits his pregnant sister’s house to help out with a strange “visitor”.

Happy Halloween!


A Proper Haunting

by Sam Best

Miles Dooey sat patiently and waited for his sister to finish her story. She had always been inclined to dramatize even the littlest of events, and though this seemed like a big one, she still enhanced her visit to the palm reader with an unhealthy layer of indulgence.

“I swear to God,” Margaret was saying, “if it hadn’t been for Madame Lara, Harold and I never would have thought to put salt around the baby’s crib.” She rested her small hands atop the bulge of her stomach. Miles couldn’t remember the exact due date, but he knew it was close to that very night of Halloween.

Pregnancy suited his older sister. He always thought she had been too skinny, but she had absorbed some of the sympathy weight meant for her husband and looked all the more healthy for it. Harold—good old reliable Harold—had maintained his mildly stocky frame throughout the entire ordeal. He was shorter than Marge by two inches yet it never seemed to bother either of them. Miles was always surprised at how happy they seemed whenever he stopped in for a visit. Their house was only a ten minute drive from his small apartment downtown, and he found his sister’s cooking pleasant, if a little tired. Yet, she had this way with croissants that was absolutely divine.

At first, Marge thought it would be fun to have a baby on October 31st. She and Harold decorated the nursery with cartoonish pumpkins and friendly ghosts that could never scare the wings off a fly. Everything was perfect until the night the fireplace had supposedly lit itself and the radio switched on and played old Christmas songs. Marge and Harry had just come home from the grocery store and still had their bags in hand when they were apparently welcomed by an unseen visitor.

And then came the trip to the palm reader, which had completely changed her mind about wanting to have a child on Halloween.

That’s how she told it, anyway. Harry remained silent during her long recounting of the night in question and the subsequent visit to Madame Lara. Apparently the palm reader had filled his wife’s head with a story about a disembodied specter who, once a year at Halloween, steals a baby from new parents. The form of the bogeyman changed from story to story, but one thing remained the same—its insatiable desire for newborns. Marge was convinced she and Harold had been chosen by said ghost, and they wanted to do everything they could to ward off the baby-snatching ghoul.

“So you see why you just have to help us, Miles,” Marge finished. Harry took her hands in his and squeezed them comfortingly. Miles frowned at the clump of knuckles and stood. For all the guff his sister gave him about the way he advertised his business, she was certainly willing to entertain his methods now that she had a slight fire problem and a buggy radio.

“Let’s get started,” he said.

Marge’s face lit up as she hurried to her feet and smoothed out the front of her dress. “Oh, thank you, Miles! It just means so much to Harry and I—”

The mention of his name awakened something in the meek insurance salesman. “Now wait just a stinkin’ minute,” said Harry. He stood with one hand held up, commanding the universe to stop. “I don’t know if I’m comfortable having you here, Miles.”

“Oh, Harry,” said Marge. She affected the practiced stance of women everywhere, one of simultaneous sympathy and bemused condescension that said she understood where he was coming from, but in the end it didn’t matter because they both knew things weren’t going to go his way.

“Now hold on,” he said. He tugged up his beltline and retucked his plaid polo shirt. “I don’t mean any offense, Miles. You’re Margie’s brother and I respect that. But I just have to say that I’m not entirely convinced that you’re able to do…well, what you say you can do.”

He squared his shoulders in the way that a playground weakling does to try and tell the bully he means business. It was weak and ineffectual, but Marge rubbed his arm and hooked her elbow through his just the same.

“Oh, Harry,” she sighed.

Miles frowned and nodded. If he wasn’t hoping to get paid for clearing the house of whatever “spirit” his sister and her dull but well-meaning husband had imagined, he would finally have that talk with Harold he had been meaning to have ever since he married Marge—the one about growing a little more of a spine when it came to dealing with uncomfortable situations.

The money had been drying up at Dooey’s Paranormal Counseling for the last year. The city of White Falls, Colorado, had been recovering nicely from the economic downturn, and whenever the economy did well, the so-called ghosts stayed away. There was something in that about external stress manifesting itself in the form of poltergeists and hauntings, but Miles had never paid attention to the soft science of his profession. He relied on his gut to ferret out the heart of an issue.

The truth was that, since he broke from the Catholic Church two years ago—and from a promising career in psychiatry two years before that—to start his own business, every call he had taken as a self-described Paranormal Counselor was explained away as symptomatic of a real-life problem. There was always some lingering debt or guilt that hung around the shoulders of the recently left-behind that forced their minds to imagine their loved ones returned from the grave to exact cruel vengeance by knocking over teacups and making the tub water cold when it should be hot.

Superstitious people paid well to have their fears allayed, and Miles never once felt even the slightest pang of guilt from his profession. He expected it on every house call, but the thanks heaped upon him after rooting out the issue were enough to fill him instead with a sense of purpose he had been searching for, unbeknownst to him, for his entire life.

“I understand your skepticism, Harry,” said Miles. “I really do.” He held up a hand of his own to push the universe back toward Harold. “But I would ask that you hold off your judgment until we investigate.”

Harold hesitated. One of his feet rubbed into the carpet and, for a brief moment, Miles expected him to stuff his hands in his pockets and say, “Aw, gee.”

Instead, Marge released her husband’s arm and guided Miles over to the fireplace.

“It just lit up all by itself!” she said excitedly.

Miles knelt down in front of the small stone fireplace and opened the gates. A small hill of ash and charcoal decorated the middle, beneath the metal stand that held firewood. He could smell that a fire had indeed been kindled recently. A cold front had pushed through the state two nights before, leaving behind a chill that was expectedly harried from households by cozy little fires. Nothing unusual there.

“Did your visitor put a fresh log on the stand?”

“That’s not funny, Miles,” said Harry.

“There was no wood at all!” said Marge. “The fire hovered over the stand right in the middle.”

“And how much did you two have to drink that night?” asked Miles.

Marge sounded shocked. “You know I can’t drink with the baby!”

Miles knew. He was often surprised how many of his clients’ woes could be explained away by the ingestion of too much booze. Apparently the dead preferred to commune with people who were bombed to the point of blindness.

“You saw it, too, Harold?” asked Miles. Harold looked around the room, searching for rescue, then reluctantly nodded his head and stared at the floor. “How long did it last?”

“Why, until I closed the flue,” said Marge. “Probably about thirty seconds.”

“And then the radio came on?”

“No, it came on before the fire went out.”

“That could have been interference from a neighbor. Perhaps their radio remote is set to the same frequency as yours.”

“Well, it’s never happened before,” said Marge.

“Could be a new radio,” said Miles. He stood and walked over to the entertainment center. His sister had never watched a lot of TV, and her small, outdated television set confirmed she hadn’t yet changed her mind about the device.

Miles turned the radio on. Static. Off again. Silence.

“Hm,” he said.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Harry. “I suppose you’re going to ask your full fee for this nonsense.”

“Harold!” said Marge.

“Not the full fee,” said Miles. “Not for family.”

“But you’re still going to charge us!” said Harold.

Miles sighed. There was that pang of guilt. “How about a half-dozen of those frozen steaks? Don’t you guys get forty at a time or something?”

“Not my steaks!” said Harry.

“That’s fine, Miles,” said Marge in her peacemaker tone. “Harold, that’s fine. We’re just grateful for the help.”

Miles brushed off his hands. “Anything else unusual? Just the fireplace and the radio?”

“Isn’t that enough?” asked Marge.

“I wish it were,” said Miles. Now it was his turn to affect a heightened sense of drama. “These things start small, but usually escalate until someone gets hurt.”

“So you actually believe we’re being haunted?” asked Harold.

“I’ve never once seen anything that leads me to believe in ghosts or spirits,” said Miles.

“But you say you’re a paranormal counselor!”

“That’s the flash,” said Miles. “That draws in the customers. It’s business. It’s what people want to believe. But the truth behind the issues is always—and I mean always—the symptom of a real problem. For example: how’s your sex life?”

“I beg your pardon!” said Harold.

“I’m sure you do. You’d be shocked to learn how many problems I investigate that can be solved by a simple application of nookie.”

“Get out!” said Harold.

“That bad, huh?” said Miles. “Sorry, Sis.”

“I’m pregnant, you jackass.”

He shrugged. “Show me the nursery.”

Marge led him down a long hallway off the living room. It turned once or twice and Miles had a hard time keeping track of the doors they passed. The light seemed less and less inclined to reach the dark recesses of the house through which he was being guided. Night had been falling when Miles arrived, but even the soft afterglow of the sun once it dipped below the horizon would not penetrate the clear windows of the rooms at the back of the house.

“I never realized that this was such a big place,” he said in a whisper.

“Why are you whispering?” whispered Marge.

“I didn’t mean to,” said Miles, forcing himself to speak in a normal tone. It sounded like a scream.

“Don’t yell,” whispered Harold. He followed the two of them down the hallway.

“Seriously, who designed this place?” asked Miles.

“Something’s not right,” said Marge.

“Turn on a light or something.”

Harold flipped a switch on a nearby panel and a dim bulb illuminated overhead. Miles, much to his own consternation, felt undeniably relieved.

Several open doors led to rooms on either side of the hallway. Miles took a few steps and the doors slammed closed, one by one. He turned quickly to Marge.

“Are those on a timer?!” he asked.

“Are you joking?”

Miles wanted to say that he was, because he doubted most people had timers on their household doors. Marge led him farther down the hallway. After a few steps, the overhead light clicked off and plunged them into darkness.

“Harold!” hissed Marge.

“It wasn’t me!”

“Miles?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Still think our neighbors got a new remote?”

“Power could have gone out,” said Miles.

The overhead light flicked back on.

Miles stared at the buzzing bulb. “Or a short in the wiring.”

“Let’s go back to the den,” said Marge.

They turned back and Harold led them down the circuitous hallway. The corridor turned left, then right, then left again.

“Harrrollld…” said Marge. She grabbed his arm with both her hands and pressed her pregnant belly against his body. Miles frowned at the natural sign of affection and comfort. He was still going to take the steaks, but he was sure he would feel damn guilty chewing every bite.

Harold stopped.

“What is it?!” whispered Marge.

“The doors,” said Harold. “They’re gone.”

Miles looked at either side of the hallway. There were no open doors—no doors at all—along the hallway. Both walls were solid wood paneling. Behind Miles, the hallway extended into the distance as far as the eye could see. The end  in that direction—if there was one—was lost in a soft haze.

Ahead, the hallway ended in a single door. A cartoonish pumpkin sticker had been placed in the center. It wore a light blue baseball cap for the boy Marge and Harold were having. Something about the pumpkin’s grin unnerved Miles. It was more sinister than playful, and it seemed to grow as the three of them approached the door.

Harold reached out for the doorknob and Marge slapped his hand away.

“Are you crazy!” she hissed. “Let’s go back!”

“There is no back!” he said.

Miles strode forward and pushed through them to get to the door. He studied its seams, its surface, the grinning pumpkin, and the doorknob. He turned the knob and pushed open the door.

The room was dark but for a dim shaft of moonlight spilling in from the lace-curtained window. The light fell across the white crib in the middle of the room. A hanging mobile spun slowly from the ceiling, tinkling out what Miles assumed would normally be a comforting lullaby. Now it sounded like the door-chime to Hell.

The circle of salt around the baby’s crib that Marge had confidently laid down earlier was broken on one side. Marge gasped and clawed for Miles. He hurriedly pushed her onto Harold. The two of them shrank back from the doorway as Miles approached the crib.

Something lay within.

A blue blanket concealed a wriggling, baby-sized lump. Half horrified and half intrigued—well, mostly horrified and only a little intrigued—Miles reached out a shaking hand and pinched one corner of the blanket.

Something picked him off the ground and slammed him into the corner face-first. Marge screamed from the doorway.

“Margie, run!” shouted Harold.

Miles tried to turn around but couldn’t. He was suspended a few feet off the ground by an invisible pressure that crushed him into the corner of the room and would not let him move. He tried to call out for help but all he could manage were two pathetic moans. He was fairly certain he wet himself.

In the middle of the room, the crib rocked slowly back and forth.

“Oh my God, the baby’s coming!” screamed Marge.

Miles couldn’t turn his head to see. The force pinning him to the wall lifted him up until his head banged into the ceiling.

Then he heard footsteps. Heavy, slow, thudding footsteps that started near the crib and approached Marge and Harold. Miles heard them slump to the floor. He heard Harold whimpering, saying, “No, no,” over and over again.

Marge’s screams turned from fright to pain as she writhed on the floor. The heavy footsteps stopped and there was a brief moment of silence. The pressure eased up on Miles slightly and he managed to barely twist his head enough to see Marge out of the corner of his eye.

A tall, thin figure stood before her, silhouetted by the hallway light. On the ground in front of Marge lay her new baby boy. She whimpered and shook her head as the tall figure stooped down and reached out for the child with long fingers.

Suddenly the pressure returned greater than ever and smashed Miles into the corner. His screams joined Marge’s as the invisible force twisted his head to the side until he could no longer see.

The baby cried out and was shushed by a soft whisper. The spinning mobile tinkled out its soft music overhead, playing the dread soundtrack of that terrible Halloween.

Quick Math

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the process of writing, and after my father recently sent me a great article on having a system for success by Dilbert creator Scott Adams, I thought I would post my thoughts.

The length of novels varies, but on average you can expect something in the range of 70k-120k words. The first Harry Potter book was ~77k words; Lord of the Flies: ~60k; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: ~110k. (Source)

The quick math is that if you write 1k words a day, every day, you can have 365k words in a year. That’s three long books or about five shorter books. I know authors who can do 1k words in twenty minutes. It takes me about an hour for quality work, less if I am rushing and don’t care about errors. The point is that you can write 3-5 novels a year working at only a thousand words a day. It takes work to get into the habit of writing every day, but if you can hack out an hour instead of watching TV or exercising (just kidding), you can have an impressive catalog in a short couple of years. And from two years of trying to make it as a self-published author, I can tell you with certainty that having a dense backlist of books is key for prolonged success.

If you choose high output as one of your goals, I am of the opinion you can maximize your success by adhering to a couple of simple rules (besides getting an editor to keep your grammar and spelling in line). In fact, this may be the best way to ensure you get your career off the ground. Please note that this is a classic case of the author not following his own advice. It took me almost two years to come to these conclusions and I am just now swinging my career in the direction I have always wanted it to go.

1) Stick to one genre. Every successful independent author I know (who brings in more than $20k a month…yes, a month) writes in one or more series with a very specific, clearly-defined genre. What this means is that they don’t do what I have done: write a horror novel, then a sci-fi novel, then an urban fantasy young adult novel. These authors crank out book after book of what their readers love, and it has brought them success and financial stability. The biggest thing they have done is use a system, personal to their own goals and dreams, to make it happen. They chose a path and stuck to it. Success did not find them after one book. It found them after they proved they could consistently deliver a product that fit the needs of a group of passionate readers.

Which leads me to…

2) Series. This is it. You want more readers? You want rabid fans breaking down your email doors begging for more content? Series is the key. Build a world the readers don’t want to leave and you have yourself a long-lasting product with the possibility to provide continual income for as long as you can conjure up new adventures for your beloved characters. There’s a reason the film business has switched from a majority of original movies to an overwhelming tidal wave of sequels and remakes: viewers (and readers) love familiarity, nostalgia, and characters they can follow on more than one adventure. They invest something into the fictional realm which I believe is an extension of our childhood imaginations; an adult way of dealing with our more mature, less obvious desire to immerse ourselves in a world of pure make-believe.

Anyway, this feeds into something I tend to bring up a lot in conversation, mostly because others tend to hang so much value on one specific word that should be ignored completely when dealing with the direction you want your career to take: “Should”.

This word is responsible for more frustration than I could recall if my life depended on it. You “should” be able to write in as many genres as you want. You “should” be able to write a book and then write another which is completely unrelated instead of a direct sequel, and readers “should” pick it up anyway and give you the benefit of the doubt that it’s just as incredible as your first book.

And you’re right. Things “should” be like that. But they aren’t. There “should” be no crime and heartbreak in the world, but guess what happens anyway? The best thing you can do to guarantee success is to understand what you’ve been dealt and play the cards that have the best chance of winning. You can labor your whole life in the artistic pursuit of the next great American novel and never see a dime. Or you can write five action novels in a year and live off the proceeds for five years while you work on that masterpiece. Different people have different goals, naturally, and some people believe the pursuit of that great novel is its own reward. I’m not one to argue with them, because I am that person on some level. But I am also the person that doesn’t want my wife to have to work until she’s 65 in a mostly thankless job for very little recognition.

So I devised a system, just like anyone else can do. I write for a certain amount of time, every single day, and at the end of the year I’ll have a series of books that will hopefully connect with a percentage of the world’s readers. Your books are products, as much as they “should” be respected and viewed as individual pieces of art. If you don’t care about selling any copies, then that’s your prerogative. If you do care, then you are no different than any other inventor peddling their wares to the masses. You need to have something they want if you are to move any product, and the best way to do that is to throw away “should” and align your goals with that which will put food on your table.

It isn’t an artistic compromise to work on something that has more popular value than what you know from research and market data won’t sell more than half a dozen copies to your most loyal fans. I would think that almost every author has a love for some genre that has a potential for selling really well. Lend your specific talents to that genre and apply your passion to making a commercial novel as personal and endearing as possible without sacrificing your authorial honor. Make it as good as you possibly can, and you will be surprised at how good it feels as an accomplishment in its own right. Then you can relax and write the next Gatsby. I know this kind of success is possible because I talk to authors every day who have turned their love of a popular genre into $20k+ a month. It takes hard work and persistence, but in the end it’s a surprisingly simple formula for achieving your goals.