Friday, November 9, 2012

Want your writing to be read in 1,000 years? Look to Science Fiction for a Clue.

     Science fiction matters, but not as a forecast of future events. (Where are the flying cars? Eternal youth? Meal-in-a-pill?)
     The under-rated literary category offers top-notch entertainment—and an overlooked benefit. The success of certain sci-fi stories holds a key to your own writing success.
     Technical fiction—use that term if the rocket ships, ray guns, mages and alternate histories distract you—measures society’s fears about technology-wrought change. The backbone themes of sci-fi include hubris, the mad scientist, monsters, and playing God. These have struck a chord with readers for millennia.
     Set your Way Back Machine and travel with me 3500 years in the past to consider one of mankind’s earliest technical thrillers. You’ll recognize it from Genesis, Chapter 1. It also pops up in ancient Sumerian’s cuneiform inscriptions, in Sanskrit seals, in the Koran, in Aztec and other native peoples’ stories. Most likely, you know the story as the Tower of Babel.
     Technical thriller? Indeed! The survivors of the Great Flood elect to build “a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven…” This was grand a goal for its time as H. G. Wells’s First Men on the Moon was for his.  The ancients fired “brick for stone”. That’s your disruptive technology. Bricks replaced sun-dried mud and permitted vertical buildings and city walls. City states replaced tribes. Heredity and political acumen replaced wisdom and experience in the appointment of rulers.  Bricks set nomadic life on the path to obsolescence and created social upheaval.
     The Tower of Babel account still resonates because it employs one of the oldest literary devices, metaphor, and one of the oldest themes in science fiction, playing God—hubris. “The Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this [building the tower] is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.’”
     The rest is history, or metaphor, if you prefer. Individual city-states produced individual cultures, languages and fragmented society. Add metaphor to history, create a mythology, and the story has legs that carry it across the centuries.
     Other early sci-fi writers used these tools successfully. Icarus’sill-fated flight towards the sun or Belleraphon’s abortive flight to Mt. Olympus are metaphors that represent hubris.
     Fast-forward to modern times and you’ll encounter the stubborn persistence of these themes. Read no further than Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and you’ll find technologists playing God with DNA. Monster stories are as old as darkness, but Crichton struck a vein when he married technology and mythology. That, and damned good writing.
     Another long-lived premise is that of the unhinged individual in control of limitless power, the Mad Scientist. I explore this subject in my novel, Little Deadly Things, the story of an emotionally-damaged woman whose mastery of nanotechnology makes her wealthy…and dangerous.
     I believe that the conscious use of our primal mythologies blended with modern technology produces great stories. Call it science fiction or technical thrillers—whichever you wish.
     Literature’s answer to playing God (a term coined in the 1931 film version of Frankenstein) is technology in service to mankind. Think of Isaac Asimov’s beneficent robots, harnessed by the Three Laws of Robotics. Consider the second Terminator movie, in which a new cyborg must protect John Connor from an even more powerful and advanced Terminator, the T-1000. Look to Marta Cruz in LittleDeadly Things, a character who melds nanotechnology with ancient rainforest medicines for the good of an ailing world.
     When writers grok the relationship between technical change and mythology, they add to their inventory of time-tested literary devices.  Imbue good writing with technical knowledge and mythology and the results just might be a damned good thriller that stays popular, millennium after millennium.
     I’ll tell you if it works for my novel. Just look me up in a thousand years and we’ll compare notes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers: How I Funded My Self-Published Novel With Kickstarter

The best time to prepare a Kickstarter project is a few years ago. Your history of generosity creates a bank of goodwill from which you can draw. The second best time to prepare is right now.
On July 13, I launched a $2500 Kickstarter project that raised $3,027. Direct contributions raised an additional $1,185 for a total of $4,212. After fees, I grossed $3,909. After paying for the rewards to backers, collateral materials, and shipping, I netted about $3400—a good chunk of the cost of self-publishing Little Deadly Things.
Success is not rocket science. It’s just hard work plus a few basics. Here’s what I learned.
Write a damned good book and a perfect Kickstarter pitch. Twelve percent of my funding came from strangers browsing Kickstarter for interesting projects. An indifferent pitch and the kindness of strangers will pass you by.
Aim low. Set a funding goal that you can attain or exceed. If you fall short of your goal, your project will not be funded.
End your project on the second weekend of the month. The first paycheck of the month pays the bills. The second check is more disposable. Don’t end a project at month end, when the money’s spent.
Short projects work better than long ones. Maintain a sense of urgency, and stay focused.
Backers help people they like. People you know won’t care about your project so much as they will care about you. Don’t take it personal. Make it personal.
Backers, II. Your generosity is infectious. Be a vector of giving to gain credibility. More about that at the end of this blog—don’t miss it.
Backers, III. People you’ve helped will help you. But there’s a caveat:  if you touch someone’s life, stay connected. I’ve done a lot of pro-bono work, but the only ones who responded to a solicitation were the most recent of the folks I helped, or those with whom I’ve stayed in touch.
Everybody likes a hero. Nobody likes a mooch. Use social networks wisely. I posted daily on Facebook. People were interested in the book’s progress and experienced my journey vicariously. But I was careful to mention my  Kickstarter project only three times.
One-third of my pledges came through the Little Deadly Things’ Facebook page. Remember to build your story on social media well before you start your funding appeal.
You must have a project video. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Check out the LDT video. It’s clearly home grown, but it worked.
Keep your video short. 197 people clicked on my five-minute video, but only 20% watched to the end. Your video should be well under three minutes.
Communicate well. Successful projects require strategic Updates. Too few, too many, or overly long Updates can mean failure. Short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read.
Rewards rule! The perceived value of the reward should approximate the size of the pledge. Browse Kickstarter to see what other project creators offer.
Rewards, II. You must include low-dollar value rewards. Nearly one out of three Kickstarter backers pledged $10. Their reward was an eBook, which was very profitable because there are no inventory or shipping costs.
Rewards, III. International backers preferred eBook rewards due to extra shipping costs and customs fees. If you ship print books internationally, indicate “Gift” on the customs form to avoid fees charged to the backer.
Rewards rule, IV. Shipping is the tail that wags the dog. I underestimated these costs. Also, I offered posters as a reward. I had to purchase mailing tubes and extra postage. Wish I’d thought that through!
Do not kick in your own money in order to hit your goal. It may be considered money-laundering. Your project may be taken down and the pledges cancelled.
Compliment Kickstarter with direct mail. One-third of my support came from people who do not frequent the internet. Bone up on how to write a fund-raising appeal.  Ask local shopkeepers how they handle requests for donations. Six percent of my proceeds came from shops I patronize.
Support Grubstreet’s young writers. Read Little Deadly Things. Starting in January, Little Deadly Things will fund a quarterly scholarship for the Grubstreet Young Adults Writers Program. You can help YAWP—and read a damned good novel—with your purchase. Buy from the LDT site, or from Amazon. You can even borrow the Kindle version free, from the Amazon Prime Lending Library. That helps YAWP too. Find out why YAWP might have saved a main character’s life.
Kickstarter is a heckuva lot of work. But it’s worthwhile.  Best of all, it will make you a better writer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New! You Discover Easy Free Proven Love. Safe Money Results Guaranteed!

Read just about any old-school sales training text--even some of the new ones--and you are bound to find a reference to a Yale University study describing the dozen most persuasive words in the English language. I squeezed 11 into the title of this update before I ran out of room. 

Trouble is, it was b.s.
The folks that trumpeted the study cited Yale's Communication and Attitude Change Project as its source. Project member Robert P. Abelson recalls letters pouring into his office asking for more data.
The study never existed. Neither did Marketing Magazine, which also was credited with the research.
I still love free, and I guarantee proven results.
On November 1 - 3, Alloy Press (that's me) will partner with Amazon to give away FREE Kindle copies of Little Deadly Things.  Tell your friends! No one needs attend Yale or a sales meeting to get a free copy. One simply needs to own a Kindle, or use a Kindle application on another device.
LDT is a futuristic thriller for those who don't read thrillers...and those who do. What happens when abusive parents raise brilliant children? You might get a saint. You might get a killer. Or you might get one of each. Nanotechnology made Eva Rozen the world's wealthiest woman. Rage made her the deadliest.
Why the give away?
I'm doing this because we're heading into the busiest time of year for book sales, Christmas. I want lots of people to read LDT and then purchase many copies as gifts.
You can help. Easy-peasy.
If you haven't placed an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads, I beg you to do so. As of this writing, there are 22 reviews between those sites. The more reviews, the more seriously people will take this offering. .
That means you have to read the book. You'll love it!. All but 1 Amazon reviews is 5-star. The other is a fair 4-star review. According to Amazon the most-common review statements are:
  --"A very smart read..." (9 reviewers made similar statements, says Amazon)
  --"This book had me riveted...a page-turner." (9 reviewers made similar statements says Amazon)
  --"...a glimpse into what the future may hold for us.” (5 reviewers made similar statements says Amazon)
Read. Review. Spread the word.
Freebies coming November 1 - 3. Be part of history. Help LDT make the Amazon best-seller list, even if for only 3 days. 
That will be a very good deed--and good for your Health, which is word number twelve.