Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 009 -- Brian Clark

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In this bonus episode, Brian Clark (GMD studios) defends his controversial assertion that “transmedia” has outlived its usefulness as a descriptive term for storytelling … and how refining the definition of this emerging breed of narrative will contribute to its long-term viability. Links mentioned in this episode:

Podcast: Interview with Kate Sullivan, of Candlemark & Gleam

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Today, J.C. chats with Kate Sullivan, the mastermind of indie digital publisher Candlemark & Gleam. The company, which has been publishing books since 2010, pioneers the emerging digital publishing space, and often experiments with promotion and distribution. In this conversation, Kate shares the story behind Candlemark & Gleam, and dives deep on the innovative business and distribution model fueling the recent release of C&G's latest title Constellation Games, a sci-fi comedy novel written by Leonard Richardson.

It's a fun and fascinating look at the publishing marketplace, and how indie publishers are uniquely poised to move fast, bet smart, and win big.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 004 -- Michel Reilhac

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Hosts Steve Peters and J.C. Hutchins have a fascinating chat with Michel Reilhac, who is the Executive Director of Arte France Cinéma and Director of Film Acquisitions for ARTE France. A passionate evangelist of Transmedia Storytelling, Michel shares his experiences pitching and producing projects in Europe, and talks about the changing transmedia landscape there. Links from this show:

Coming Soon

Coming soon, exclusively in ebook format, to online retailers near you. :)

I might redesign the covers before they hit the marketplace, but I think these are final. :)

--J.C.

Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 001 - Jan Libby and Snow Town

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In this special episode of StoryForward, co-host J.C. Hutchins chats with transmedia storyteller Jan Libby about her creative career, and her latest project, Snow Town.

Links from this show:

Tell us what you think of the show by giving co-host Steve Peters and I a shout at info at storyworldpodcast dot com!

Podcast: StoryForward, Episode 000 -- Interview with Thomas Dolby

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Hey, everybody! After a long hiatus from regular podcasting, I'm back to the digital airwaves as co-host of the ARGNetcast, a show that covers the transmedia storytelling space. I'll be posting episodes of that show here in my podcast feed (unless folks pipe up and tell me not to). Tell me what you think of the show by giving co-host Steve Peters and I a shout at info at storyworldpodcast dot com! Now, on to the episode's show notes!

On this show, singer/songwriter Thomas Dolby joins hosts Steve Peters and JC Hutchins, as they discuss Science, pushing creativity forward through technology, and the unique game project he co-created for his latest album, The Map of the Floating City.

Links from this show:

Creator Spotlight: Novelist Jonathan Maberry & "Dead of Night"

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Few writers have captured my imagination the way Jonathan Maberry has. His Joe Ledger novel series -- which chronicles the adventures of the "Department of Military Sciences," a secret government rapid response team that handles horrific technology-created terrors -- has entertained and inspired me in countless ways. Maberry's horror fiction always bets big, the stakes are always high, and the payoffs always rock your socks. This dude can write.

When Maberry recently gave me a shout, eager to tell me (and you!) about his latest novel Dead of Night, I leaned in and listened good. I've never been much of a zombie fiction guy, but Maberry's zombie fiction is smarter, meatier -- and sometimes, just plain meaner -- than most zombie stories out there.  Maberry delivered the goods in his 2009 novel Patient Zero ... and he's done it again with Dead of Night.

This is a helluva good read -- so good, in fact, that I asked Maberry if I might share an excerpt of it here via my blog. Maberry did me one better: He not only hooked us up with an excerpt; he agreed to an author Q&A, and tossed in access to seven Dead of Night bonus scenes.  Hot damn, it's Christmas all over again!

Maberry has been one of my favorite storytellers for years now, and Dead of Night didn't disappoint. Let's dig into my Q&A with Maberry, and afterward, I'll provide links to that PDF excerpt of Dead of Night and a link to bonus material!

~ ~ ~

J.C. HUTCHINS: We all have a scary memory from our youth. What's one of the scariest things you recall from your childhood? Has it directly influenced your work?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I grew up in a fairly violent and abusive household, so just waking up was scary and coming home from school was scary.  Two things happened as a result. First, I began studying martial arts with a friend and his dad –and later in one of Philadelphia’s major dojos -- which made me tough enough to survive and ultimately escape that environment.  And second, I escaped into my imagination -- and in that world the ‘monsters’ could be defeated.  Both of those informed my whole life, my outlook, and certainly what I write.

People often ask me why I write about monsters, and I tell them that I don’t.  I write about people who overcome monsters. Big difference.

HUTCHINS: I'm head over heels for your Joe Ledger novels and Dead of Night. One reason is because you infuse elements of other genres into your horror fiction. What are some of those genres, and why do you enjoy bringing them into the mix?

MABERRY: I’m a total science geek.  I love cool science and freaky science and totally weird science.  So, pretty much anything I write is going to have some kind of science back-story.  That’s actually how I came to write both the Joe Ledger series and my my latest novel, Dead of Night.

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Back in 2008 I was approached by a publisher to write a nonfiction book on zombies.  This was a couple of years after Max Brooks lit the world on fire with the Zombie Survival Guide.  There weren’t too make nonfic zombie books out there apart from either books on zombie movies or attempts to rip-off Max.  I had no interest in doing either, so I told the publisher that I’d like to write a zombie book with some hard-core science in it.  Since one of my other loves is forensic science, I pitched Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead. I interviewed over 250 experts in a variety of fields (police, science, medicine, the clergy, the press, psychologists, etc.) on how the real world would genuinely react if something like Night of the Living Dead actually happened. Not one person turned me down for an interview, and I’m talking Homeland Security, SWAT teams, award-winning journalists, celebrities and even priest, pastors and rabbis.  Every single one of them already had some sort of opinion about zombies.  Crazy, right?

So I wrote the book and it’s been a big seller for me all over the world.

Now, while researching and writing the science chapters, I cooked up a pretty reasonable -- if scary -- scenario for a zombie plague. That sparked the thought: “What would happen if this science was 100% real?  Who would be likely to misuse it?”  That fast I had the idea of terrorists using a weaponized zombie plague.  The 2009 novel Patient Zero was the result, which kicked off the Joe Ledger series.  Granted, only the first book in that series deals with zombies, but the book has a big audience.  It gave me a real taste for zombie fiction.

After Patient Zero hit it big, that publisher (St. Martin’s) asked me if I had any ideas for a standalone zombie novel.  I did, because I kept researching the science (being the geek I am) and I cooked up an entirely different and even MORE plausible scientific explanation for zombies. That book became Dead of Night, and everyone’s been telling me that it’s my best novel so far.

HUTCHINS: Way back in 2010, you wrote the novelization of the movie The Wolfman. I've got a lot of love for that movie. I've also been curious about the adaptation process. What writing challenges did you experience adapting The Wolfman to novel format? Was there anything that was unexpectedly easy about the process?

MABERRY:  I was contacted directly by a vice president at Universal Pictures and offered the gig.  I did not get to see the movie, however, until a week after the book came out.  I worked from the original script by David Self.  I was asked to turn in the completed novel in eight weeks, which is pretty fast.  It was the fastest I’d written a book.  Of course, it was also a shorter novel than my previous books.  Ghost Road Blues was my shortest previous novel, but at 140,000 words it was fifty-five thousand words longer than The Wolfman.

To write the book, I first read the script through end to end without making notes.  I read it to appreciate the story, the characters, the writing, the dialogue and the pace. Then I re-read and made notes on things I needed to research and things I wanted to include.  Ideas occurred to me during the first two read-throughs and made a bunch of notes on themes, character traits and motifs.

After that I pulled out a scene and did a draft to get a feel of the voice.  Understand, I never got to see the film.  I was working entirely off of the script, a movie trailer and a handful of early production sketches.  So, I had no idea how the actors would interpret the lines or how the director would be crafting mood through camera angles, lighting, etc.

When I asked Universal how they wanted me to approach the writing, they said to make it my own.   I took them at their word, and when I sat down to write I was determined to write the best novel I could.  Understand, I wasn’t trying to novelize a movie script, I was writing a novel.  I wrote it so that people would enjoy reading it.

One of the challenges to adapting a novel is the fact that a line of script might translate to pages and pages of story.  For example, in the first draft of the script I read there was a scene of the moon rising above some ancient standing stones.  The script describes a visual and that’s it.  I took that and built a motif of the moon as a predatory goddess of the hunt, and echoed that through the story.

HUTCHINS: You've written for Marvel Comics titles such as Black Panther. Totally frickin' awesome. Were you a fan of the genre before you started working with Marvel? It's a highly collaborative medium; as a prose author who often flies solo, was that a challenging adjustment?

MABERRY: I grew up with Marvel Comics.  I remember going into a store to but my first comic book ... Fantastic Four #66.  Brand spanking new.  I was hooked from the jump, and I collected comics up until around 1990.  Then I stopped for a while; but when Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso reached out and asked me if I wanted to write for them, I started right back up again.  Now I sink a bunch of bucks every week at the comic book store.

The process of adjustment was interesting.  Writing novels is a very solitary process. It’s just you.  Comics are different, and the process is faster.  With comics it starts with a pitch to an editor, which comes with some discussion and idea-swapping.  Then the writer does the script and dribbles it back to the editor, who often has notes.  That’s a process.  Then the artist gets the script and roughs it out.  The editor gives him notes and lets the writer see the pencil sketches. After more edits, the artist does the finished pencils, then an inker steps in.  And then the letterer.  It’s complicated and there are a million emails firing back and forth.  So, to make it work you have to learn how to play with the whole team, and to allow each member of the team to have an equal voice.

The biggest challenge for me was to write less and allow the art to say more.  Novels are all about words, and even though writers do the comic book script first, at the end of the day the comic is a visual medium.  Visuals tell the story.

HUTCHINS: I'm always interested in learning what entertainment my favorite creators consume. What creative content -- be it music, TV, books, film, games, etc. -- is really ringing your bell these days, and why?

MABERRY: I have pretty eclectic tastes.  I’m a huge fan of Dexter.  I’ve spoken with Jeff Lindsay, the author of the books, and I’ve been a fan of both the print and TV versions of Dexter.  This season ended with a mind-blowing finale that actually had me screaming at the TV.  I also fell in love with Homeland.  What a first season!  But I dig a bunch of other shows, like Modern Family, Parenthood, Doctor Who, Being Human, Primeval, Luther, Torchwood, Sherlock, and a very small group of reality shows -- Cake Boss, No Reservations, America's Best Dance Crew and So You Think You Can Dance.

As for games ... I’m in awe of anyone who can negotiate today’s modern video games. I apparently lack the gene. Snood taxes my upper range of skill.

I’m digging this season’s crop of movies.  Loved Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Sherlock Holmes, War Horse, The Descendants and We Bought a Zoo. And I have really high hopes for upcoming flicks like Prometheus, The Hobbit, Dark Knight Rises, Spider-Man, Superman and The Avengers.

My relationship with books is obscene.  I buy so many -- in print and for my e-reader. All genres, too.  Crime novels, thrillers, horror, westerns, literary, mainstream, fantasy, Steampunk ... I’m all over the place.  Because of being on the road so much with book tours and convention appearances, I’ve mostly been listening to audiobooks.  And ... yes ... I’ve listened to all of my own books on disk. It’s weird, because I don’t always remember writing some of what I hear.  That’s fun.

~ ~ ~

What an incredible Q&A, eh? Maberry's the MAN. Now, on to these free reads.

If you like what you read -- and I'm certain you will -- take the plunge and purchase a copy of Dead of Night via Amazon or another terrific retailer. Enjoy!

--J.C.

In Which I Introduce Myself

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It is my earnest hope that a mutual friend's tweet or Facebook post brought you here. I appreciate your curiosity for clicking that link -- and since I also appreciate your time, I'll be quick. I'm J.C. Hutchins. I'm a freelance storyteller. I'd like to work with you.

I write transmedia experiences, novels, screenplays and more, all for hire. My trilogy of technothriller novels, 7th Son, was optioned by Warner Bros in 2009.  A book I co-wrote, Personal Effects: Dark Art, is now in development as a Starz TV series.

My original stories have been enjoyed by tens of thousands of people in more than a dozen countries. My for-hire work has connected with hundreds of thousands. I continue to develop original IP, work with creators to expand new IP, and collaborate with agencies to enhance existing IP.

I also help craft multimedia marketing campaigns that create memorable connections between people and products. Most of these products were my own. Others were more high profile, such as toys (Nanovor) and television series (Discovery Channel's The Colony).

I've worked with pioneers in the transmedia storytelling space such as Jordan Weisman, and agencies that innovate branded storytelling experiences such as Campfire. I live to collaborate, rev it to the creative red-line when needed, and consider deadlines immovable objects.

Do you need a fleet-footed creator to help your company or client achieve its business goals? I might be able to help. Download my creative resume to see what I've been up to recently. If my skills and accomplishments ring your bell, toss my name in your Rolodex.

And please, introduce yourself. I'd love to learn more about you, and answer any questions you might have about me or my work.

Thanks again for your curiosity and consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.

Make Friends. It's Good For Business.

Note: This post originally appeared on the website WriterUnboxed. This is the one of several WU guest posts I’ll reprint here on my site.

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There comes a point in the life of your Work In Progress when -- hot dog! -- it's no longer a Work In Progress. The sucker's done, you did it ... heck, you frickin' nailed it, and the time has come to query agents, or present it to your agent or editor, or self-publish. The rest of this essay assumes that your work will resonate with the appropriate gatekeepers, and soon soar beyond your grasp, off into the world, to be consumed by an audience.

This distribution could come in the form of a big-name publisher, an indie press, DIY-fueled print on demand, self-recorded audio podcast, home-brewed blog serialization ... whatever. Point is, it'll be out there. But unless you're blessed with an existing audience (fancy-pants publishers call this a "platform," though I prefer the term "wicked awesome fans"), few people are going to know about it. Your brilliant tale is bobbing in a sea of other brilliant tales. Your signal is lost in all that noise.

To leave the success of your work completely in the hands of a publisher publicist is foolish; that professional may be talented, but he's pimping at least 20 other books this month, and is spread so thin, he gives Silly Putty a run for its money. To believe that random word of mouth alone will differentiate your stuff from other novelists' is equally wrongheaded; how can people gab about something they don't know exists? You're a writer, which means you're probably broke, so self-funded ads are out of the question. And doggone it, Oprah isn't returning your calls.

There's a dozen-dozen ways to combat the great enemy Obscurity -- but I recommend making friends. It's good for business.

Cranking out that novel (or other creative work) was a solitary act: It was just you and the words. Now that it's in the wild, you're personally, ethically obligated to give it every chance to succeed. Reaching out to published peers and influencers can help. By contacting fellow players in the industry, you can earn the attention of colleagues, share your content across multiple fan-bases, and increase awareness for your work.

Now remember, making friends is good for business. And business is what you should be most concerned about, now that you're staring down the howitzer barrel of earning out that advance. Make-believe time is over. You're no longer a wordsmith; you're a businessperson. It's time to strategize. You gotta move books, man.

So make friends. Do some research. Find online-savvy authors in your genre -- or compatible genres -- who like to blog, are on Facebook or Twitter, or release content in other interesting ways (like podcasting). Examine what they're talking about in these spaces, especially if they're talking about other authors. This is a good thing, particularly if you're already a fan of their work. This is an opportunity to make friends.

Reach out to these authors with a respectful email that gently flatters and then gets down to business: You'd like to engage their audiences in a creative way that helps boost awareness for your work ... and in exchange, you'll promote the authors' works via your online outlets. It's a mutually-beneficial opportunity for you, the person you're pitching, and both audiences.

I'm all about making such offers, often with creators who've never heard of my work. Despite the seemingly impossible odds, I have found it to be particularly effective in not only forming win-win alliances with fellow creators, but making true friendships. Those are also good for business.

For instance: I'm a writer who released his novels online as free serialized audiobooks. Each week, new chapters of my novel (which I record myself) were released on my site and on iTunes as a podcast. I was part of a small-but-growing subculture of authors who use this content-powered "loss leader" strategy to build an audience for our stuff.

Scott Sigler is another popular podcast novelist. A few years ago, Scott and I got to talking. We're both thriller writers. (Scott writes brilliant sci-fi horror; I roll with technothrillers.) We were releasing our then-unpublished podcast novels at the same time, and we both craved larger audiences. What if we combined our efforts and promoted each other’s work in an innovative way? Since our manuscripts weren't yet published anywhere in "ink," we could alter the manuscripts, and make references to each other's novels within our own work. Better still, we'd host a contest for our listeners: They'd have to listen to both books to catch these "crossover" references. Those who spotted all six crossovers could win a prize.

The cross-promotion worked. Our audiences grew exponentially, and we still share a great many fans. We consistently promoted each other's work on our podcasts and websites. We found common ground, discovered an untapped opportunity to cross-promote, and ran with it.

Your cross-promotional pitches need not be so ambitious. You could scheme on something as simple as a series of mutually beneficial Twitter tweets, a blog post, mentions on your Facebook pages, an ad swap, a one-minute audio commercial to play on a podcast ... the low-impact list goes on and on.

Want to upgrade that cross-promotion? Consider a short fiction collaboration, serialized at your websites. (Part 1 would be at your site, Part 2 at your collaborator's site, and so on.) Team up for appearances at conventions, and promote this "twofer" appearance to your audiences. (This increases the number of attendees, and widens your net for new customers.) Same goes for book signings, if geography and budget permits. You're limited only by your imagination, and the interest level of your cross-promotional partners.

Of course, the more successful the creator you're pitching, the more likely they are to either ignore your request, or reject it. That's cool. But don't let the fear of rejection stop you from pursuing an alliance. Heck, it didn't stop you from writing your book or querying agents, so why should the possibility of "no" stop you now?

In fact, my mantra is "All they can say is no." I've pitched popular podcasters, bestselling novelists, film actors and directors on my fiction, often asking them to lend a hand (or credibility) to my projects. This crazy-ass breed of chutzpah has scored endorsements from the creators of Friday the 13th, The Blair Witch Project, Final Destination, several movie stars, cameo podcast appearances by cast members of Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and more. Their assistance either dazzled my fans -- which is also good for business -- or helped move the needle with the promotion of my work.

I share these successes not to brag, but to prove that this strategy is extremely viable, and that it gets people talking about your work ... which is the whole point, right?

By approaching influential creators -- and equally important, creators on the same influential "level" as you -- and asking them to help evangelize your work, you're offering them an opportunity to provide something of value to their audiences. They'll be talking about something cool and interesting. People love to read or hear about cool and interesting things. Plus, these creators benefit by your cross-promotional love via your online outlets. Every fan counts, and new fans are precious indeed, whether you're a noob or a veteran.

By making friends, you'll also form meaningful bonds with fellow authors. Cross-promotional potential will become more evident, the more you correspond. These professional alliances become personal ones -- and even more opportunities can spring from these relationships. I've referred colleagues for freelance fiction writing work, and they've opened doors for me. It's not a magic bullet to a love-in, but goodness, does it make book promotion easier and fun.

So make friends, whenever you can. Target colleagues in your genre and reach out. They'll likely be flattered to know that you want to help tell the world about their work ... and may very well respond in kind.

--J.C.

On the Horizon: THUNDERTAKER

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I can't rightly say if it'll be a full-on novel, novella, straight read or transmedia experience (like Personal Effects: Dark Art). Hell, it could jump over into screenplay territory by the time it's said and done. All I know is that I've wanted to write a Western for years, I've got a title, and I can hear the low-frequency rumble of a spiffy idea growling in my gut. Oh, and a cover. Because the stock photo was free at iStockphoto.com, and I had two hours to kill.

On May 1, I'll start working on THUNDERTAKER, the first story set in the universe I've created for The 33. The 33 is a cross-media project that I'd originally intended to release as a free fiction podcast last year. The world of The 33 will now likely be first seen in a series of ebooks. That's what THUNDERTAKER will probably become.

Truth is, I don't fully know what THUNDERTAKER will be by May's end, save for the fact that it'll be gruff, gritty and as nasty as razor wire. And for me, there's something delightful in not knowing what unholy mayhem will soon unfold.

I'll probably keep you in the loop as the story develops. Stay tuned ... and watch the horizon.

--J.C.

Why You Won't Find My eBooks In the Bargain Basement

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Since every other windbag author has blown a few thousand words on this topic, I reckon I oughta chime in about ebooks, pricing and value.

To be clear: Right now, I don't have much skin in the ebook game. My thriller, 7th Son: Descent, was released in e-formats by St. Martin's Griffin back in 2009. I'm a couple thousand bucks away from earning out my low five-figure advance. Ebook sales have made a positive and meaningful impact on 7th Son's bottom line.

Thanks mostly to the Kindle's debut back in 2007, the ebook marketplace has exploded in popularity, and swelled with content. Particularly empowering is the unfolding revolution in which creators can now become entrepreneurs by self-publishing their works in e-formats. They can even set the price for these ebooks.

I absolutely support this empowerment. My five-year history as an independent / freelance creator, and my consistent vociferous and monetary support of my indie colleagues should eliminate any doubt of this.

That said, I've become increasingly concerned about authors selling their ebooks at rock-bottom prices. I'm not concerned about the widely-discussed (and, according to critics, destructive and unsustainable) "race to the bottom" pricing trend; ebooks for a buck set bad precedents, pundits say. I'm also unconcerned about indies moving aggressively into marketplaces once traditionally dominated by mega-corps. Stick it to the The Man, I say. Hell, stick it in and break it off. The Man has it comin'.

No, my concern is philosophical. Authors who sell their novels at ultra-low prices (such as 99 cents) use this pricing as a differentiator to attract new customers with a nigh-zero-risk proposition. 99 cents is practically free, after all. I spent years offering similar nigh-zero-risk propositions to consumers by releasing my content as Free online audiobooks.

I admire the at-a-glance savvy of the 99-cent strategy, but fear these creators wildly undervalue the worth of their work -- and the ultra-low price undervalues the work's worth in the eyes of the consumer.

Put another way: The only 99 cent ebooks I buy are from creator friends, because I know them personally and want to see them succeed. Beyond that caveat, I don't buy 99 cent books because I reckon they're probably shit. I don't buy $3 books for the same reason. Their (very often) inarguably shitty covers, and (very often) inarguably shittily-written product descriptions and synopses provide further reasons not to buy. Very few novelists are accomplished graphic designers and marketeers, yet most playing in the self-publishing ebook space seem to think they are. Regrettably.

But I digress.

The point: I associate price with quality. I unashamedly judge books by their covers. You'd be a fool to think I'm the only one, or that this mindset is abnormal. It isn't.

I have no doubt these bargain basement authors -- let's call them the 99 Centsers -- sell plenty of ebooks. But I wonder how many sales they've lost from customers like me: normal folk who rationally associate price with quality, and who would've happily spent $10 for the same product. (Provided it was packaged with the panache worthy of a monetary transaction.)

99 Centsers also often insist it's the consumer hive-mind that should define pricing, not the entrepreneur: The marketplace decides pricing. I get the fleeting wisdom of that, despite the inconvertible fact that consumers presently support thousands of authors/publishers who sell books for $10 or more. Shoppers can't pass up deals, the 99 Centsers probably say. Ten dollars is simply too much to pay for an ebook.

What self-defeating, prideless bullshit. Shame on creators who believe this insulting myth. And if there are ebook shoppers who actually believe $10 is too rich for their Kindle-and-PC-owning, very likely broadband-Internet-and-premium-cable-subscribing blood, shame on them too.

For your consideration: The federal minimum wage is presently $7.25 an hour. Yet with this anemic pay, it requires less than two hours of effort, at today's minimum wage, to earn enough cash to buy a $10 ebook ... a product that will provide many more hours of engagement to read and complete. That is, in fact, a great value. If the book makes an emotional impact, hell, ten clams is a frickin' steal.

Since it's fair to assume the average ebook consumer earns at least the federal hourly minimum wage (and likely more), $10 is a more-than-fair ebook price for both consumer and creator.

Your work is worth far more than a buck, 99 Centsers. You may never believe it -- and I truthfully don't care if I convince you; it's not my career -- but I believe in my bones that it's true. Indeed, 99 Centsers don't, in fact, make a solid buck off their sales. The online retailer through which they distribute takes a cut before authors get their cash.

Finally, I want to briefly return to the topic of consumer and author expectations, and the exchange of currency for goods. At its simplest, if you're selling your ebook, you must be doing so because you have the nerve -- the wonderful, absolutely awesome, flipping-the-bird-at-the-odds nerve -- that your work is worthy of a stranger's time and money.

By god, it had better be. Because the very act of offering your work for purchase proclaims that you believe your work is worthy to compete against the likes of Dan Brown, Anne Rice, Brad Meltzer and anyone else's book coming out of New York City. And that means you've busted a heroic amount of ass to write, edit, polish (and repeatedly rewrite, re-edit and re-polish) that novel until it shines bold and bright. Hell, you've worked harder than those mainstream novelists because you wrote the thing, edited it, packaged it and promoted it, all out of pocket ... for no advance pay. You've assumed a shit-ton of risk.

And you're going to sell that book -- a book you soulfully believe stands up against the work of fellow pros, and worthy of a stranger's money (for why else would you sell it?) -- for a pitiful 99 cents a pop? Or an equally woeful three bucks a pop? My heart aches that so many creative people willfully sell themselves so short.

Folks who disagree with my perspective will delight in learning that I have no statistical data to support my claims about ebooks, pricing and value. I happily admit that I didn't birddog those numbers at all. For me, this isn't a debate or a discussion -- it's a declaration. I am genuinely unconcerned about crunching numbers and being numerically "right" about this. I am, however, deeply concerned about being philosophically and ethically right for me, and for my own creative and entrepreneurial path.

I am especially concerned because I'll publish ebooks of my own fiction later this year. I'll ship two novels -- 7th Son: Deceit and 7th Son: Destruction -- and at least one short story anthology -- 7th Son: 7 Days -- and at least one novella. I'll price novels at $9.99, anthologies and novellas between $4.99 and $2.99, and short stories at 99 cents. Why? Because I'm confident in my abilities, and believe any content I have the nerve to sell will deliver entertainment value that transcends these low prices.

And just as the 99 Centsers have a true believer's zeal for their pricing strategies, I'll very likely be equally unwavering in my own. I'll sleep soundly knowing I'm charging a fair price for my work. I won't bat an eye at whining shoppers who claim they can't afford a $10 ebook, for I'll know they are very likely lying, and probably don't value creative effort. If I can dictate my price, I can also dictate the quality of my customer. There is immeasurable value in that; ask any entrepreneur.

Call me creaky and slow-witted, but I simply wouldn't be proud to sell my stories for less than they're worth. From where I sit, that's an unnecessary compromise that would degrade the perceived quality of my work, and my reputation as an author.

I've worked too hard building both to sell them for a buck.

--J.C.

He falls for the Facebook. He is killed by ad.

I occasionally post a peculiar message on Twitter and Facebook -- "He falls for the booty. He is killed by knife." -- because it's an undeniably weird frickin' thing to say, and because its strange backstory amuses me. But I got my own dose of strangeness when I posted the message to Facebook today. Behold, why I both loathe and begrudgingly admire Facebook's user profiling technology:

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As one of my pals on Facebook reported, "Only 824 people like the booty? This surprises me!" :)

--J.C.

The Ebook Will Evolve. So Should Authors.

Note: This post originally appeared on the website E2BU. E2BU, aka the Enhanced Ebook University, educates authors and publishers on the creative and business potential of enhanced ebooks -- electronic books that transcend traditional reading experiences by incorporating video, online links and other multimedia elements into the narrative. Enhanced ebooks are an emerging storytelling form. I've yet to see an enhanced ebook that captures my vision for the platform's incredible narrative potential. I hope this post, which was originally written for authors and publishers, gets readers and creators thinking about the platform's potential.

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Here's some enhanced e-book wisdom for my author colleagues: It all starts with you.

I'm approaching this from a fiction writer's perspective, though non-fiction writers can benefit from this advice. Prepare your work's enhanced ebook experience from the very beginning, as you conceive your book. As you plot and write, always remember that you’re now armed with countless opportunities to push your narrative beyond words. Take advantage of that, and the many emotionally-resonant strengths other media have over text.

Presently, enhanced content is often an afterthought, tacked on at the end of a production process as a blingy differentiator. We are now in an age of storytelling where that model is practically insulting to a reader. These days, there are few good reasons for creators to ignore the potential of integrating resonant multimedia elements into their stories.

From my perspective as an online- and transmedia-savvy creator, "enhanced" content should make a meaningful narrative contribution to the main story.  Consider the narrative impact of experiencing fictional family photo albums, sci-fi computer dossiers, fake newspaper clippings, video blogs from your characters, etc.  Every genre can benefit from this story-centric approach, and can move readers in new ways.

Make this content mission-critical to the narrative experience. Cleverly devise ways to structure your story so that photographs you choose to fleetingly describe in text (for instance) are visible via the enhanced ebook. Inject visual clues/foreshadowing into those photos that will pay off later in the story; savvy readers will be delighted. If you’re an indie creator rolling your own enhanced ebooks, take advantage of the cheap and free online tools at your disposal. Get free phone numbers via Google Voice and use them in your stories -- readers can leave voicemails to their favorite characters. Is there a crime scene video that's heating up your cop thriller? Include it in your enhanced experience.

Tightly integrate these transmedia opportunities into your stories. Don’t do what publishers are doing now. Don’t create a so-called enhanced experience that plays merely like a novel with some multimedia elements wedged into the narrative for the sake of spiffiness. Readers are smart, and they’ll smell that rat a mile away. They'll probably feel like they’ve wasted their money. That's bad storytelling, and bad for business.

Avoid self-congratulatory behind the scenes content such as author bios, old drafts of your manuscripts and the like. Only longtime/hardcore fans are into that stuff ... and most authors don’t have longtime/hardcode fans. There's very little value in this content; certainly not enough to charge the premium most enhanced ebooks command. Give people what they want: world-enhancing, emotionally-resonant fiction in various media.

Speaking from experience: If your funds and production capabilities are limited and you fear your enhanced elements appear amateurish, slyly manage audience expectations in your text by referring to it as feeling home-brewed. The Blair Witch Project did this to great effect. This way, the videos you shoot with an affordable Flip cam or cell phone don't feel cheap -- they feel authentic. Same goes for photos, and audio recordings.

If you self-publish an enhanced ebook and it becomes a viral or sales hit, know that a mainstream publisher will come a-callin'. An editor will wave a check under your nose, and you'll probably be appropriately wooed. Awesome. But as part of your negotiations, make certain to insist that the publisher create "more professional" versions of that enhanced content, if you have concerns about its quality. Make it a deal-breaker if you have to. Remember, you're doing the publisher a favor by signing on the dotted line, not vice-versa.

We've yet to see a truly resonant enhanced e-novel experience, but this is probably mostly due to ever-conservative publishers being unwilling to pony up cash to get experimental -- and authors embracing the self-defeating notion that they "can only write books." The former is short-sighted. The latter is preposterous, and insulting to one's creative abilities.

Embracing multiple narrative media ensures that you're not just building "enhanced" content -- you're learning new creative and artistic skills, which will improve your life and work.

I believe a killing can be made in this space, but it requires resources -- measured either in publisher dollars or indie creator sweat equity -- a lot of beyond-the-page creative thinking, and a willingness to embrace risk.

Are publishers willing to pull the trigger? They've been pretty gun-shy so far. As with most evolutions in storytelling and entertainment, it'll probably require an indie creator to prove the model works ... or a publisher identifying a qualified creator or two, paying them, and making a business leap of faith.

--J.C.

How To Become A Better (And Future-Friendly) Storyteller

Note: This post originally appeared on the website WriterUnboxed. This is the first of several WU guest posts I'll reprint here on my site.

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I submit this for your consideration: Expand and improve your media vocabulary. It might positively impact your career now, and certainly will in the future.

I define "media vocabulary" as the various media one uses to tell resonant stories. Since most readers of this blog are authors, I reckon we're fluent in the vocabulary of text-based storytelling. But how many of us have more than a pedestrian consumer's knowledge of other media such as video, audio, photography, or graphic design? How many of us use those media in our stories?

Based on anecdotal and professional experience, I believe in my marrow that now is the time for talespinners to get savvy with several storytelling media. Within years, I expect we'll see an explosive rise of enhanced ebooks, app-based fiction and transmedia narratives that will leverage technologies and trends that have already become mainstream.

Fret not, hand-wringing wordherding purists: These multimedia, aka "transmedia" -- or as I sometimes call them, "mergemedia" -- stories will never replace a printed book or text-only ebook. But publishers will soon get into the enhanced narrative business in a big way, and will keenly quest for stories that organically incorporate disparate media into cohesive, resonant narratives.

And who better than you to deliver that very thing? You'll be a hot tamale, on the front lines of a business trend that'll reinvent the way audiences experience stories.

Few authors are prepared for this dramatic storytelling shift. I'm blessed to say I'm one of them. I recently co-wrote a novel that included tangible artifacts that came with the book -- real-life, convincing items such as IDs, business cards, family photos and more. These artifacts had clues hidden within them. When readers combined clues in the novel's text with clues in the artifacts, they could experience more of the story in other media: audio phone messages, fake character blogs, websites of locales mentioned in the book, and more. They learned aspects of the story my novel's hero never discovered -- including a beyond-the-book twist ending.

I've dabbled in video storytelling. I've written screenplays for an animated web series. I was Head Writer for an immersive transmedia online narrative that promoted a Discovery Channel show. I've recorded my own audio fiction, been a voice actor for more than a dozen other audio fiction projects, incorporated photography and graphic design into my stories ... and even crafted book promotions that invited my fans to become "patients" in my fictional insane asylum.

Am I exceptionally gifted in all of these media? Of course not. But I'm clever, creative and curious enough to know it's in the best interest of my career to bust beyond any self-inflicted Perception Prison and just be a "writer" or "novelist." I'm a multifaceted Storyteller. If I can't stellarly execute a particular multimedia storytelling element, I'll ask around until I find someone who can help realize it for me. That's what the Internet is for.

I understand, as you should, that different media convey different narrative information and evoke different emotional reactions. We, as storytellers, should absolutely leverage that to our advantage. Consider this:

  • A smartly-crafted paragraph about an elderly woman's house burning down
  • A photograph of her porcelain doll collection by the window, ablaze
  • Video of those doll's faces shattering from the intense heat
  • An audio recording of the woman wailing at her loss, with the roar of the inferno and sirens in the background

Now consider these related -- yet unique and equally emotionally resonant -- elements presented together in a cohesive, organically-constructed narrative, experienced on a hand-held device. An iPad. An iPhone. The next generation Kindle. A laptop. Doesn't matter.

What matters is this isn't a gimmick. This is, very likely, the future of storytelling.

By dipping your toes into media other than text -- be it writing for the screen or comic book, envisioning cool opportunities to take your story "beyond words" and into a medium that appeals to an entirely different sense (and evoke unique emotional reactions), or developing and deploying story-enhancing online destinations (such as a fictional company's website) -- you're expanding and improving your media vocabulary. This will expand and improve your storytelling skills, and will differentiate you from the thousands of other writers who merely put one word in front of the other.

Differentiation is good for business. As I wrote this post, I received an email from an independent game developer who wanted to hire me for some voice acting work. That opportunity never would've occurred had I not expanded my media vocabulary to include audio storytelling years ago. (I said yes to the offer. That's paid work, homes.)

Same goes for my transmedia novel work and the Discovery Channel gig. I created narratives using several media, became well-known for them, and was hired to participate in those projects. I can't guarantee that you’ll experience similar opportunities, but your chances are hella better when you get experimental and go beyond your creative comfort zone.

How do you start down this path? I won't waste precious words, or your time, with a technical how-to. We're nowhere near ready for that. Instead, let me offer some thoughts on how to get your creative mind into the philosophy fueling my perspective. You’ve spent years crafting tales with words. You need to think beyond words.

Noodle on your work in progress, and then ask yourself questions such as:

  • Are there ways to incorporate narrative portals to, say, a website where more narrative information can be delivered in an unconventional way? (Such as a character's video blog.)
  • Can you leverage real-life everyday objects and conventional behavior in new and interesting ways? (Such as including a phone number in your story --which is actually a free Google Voice number you've registered -- for people to call and hear a message from the antagonist.)
  • Are there familiar items that can enhance your narrative by adding an element of "real world" credibility to your story? (Such as fake classified blueprints, viewable at a password-protected website -- a site mentioned in your story.)
  • Can you deliver a kind of real world interaction between your audience and characters? (Such as a blog written by your character, who responds to fans who comment on her posts.)

I'm scratching the surface here -- only your personal knowledge of your story and creative curiosity can determine if what you're presently writing can benefit from these "beyond the page" experience-based narrative tools. But my point should be clear: these narrative opportunities exist, and can be downright cheap (or free) to execute.

We storytellers now stand at the convergence of several world-changing trends: cheap tools to help us create multimedia story elements … increasingly available (and affordable) Internet access for consumers … portable digital devices that can talk to the Web and play that multimedia … and an always-on 24/7 resource (the Web) that can put us in touch with creators who can assist us, should we not have the skills to execute our projects on our own.

There's never been a better time in history to be a storyteller -- and there will likely never be a better time for you to become a first mover in what will soon become a prosperous storytelling space. If you're reading the same writing on the wall that I am, you'll want to start expanding and improving your media vocabulary.

You don't need to be an expert. You just need to be creative, and ask for help if you can't execute on your own.

Don't let the future of storytelling pass you by. It's already here.

--J.C.

On Being An "Aspiring Writer"

I spotted the words "aspiring writer" on a website today. My mood went south, as it always does when I encounter this flawed phrase. When I see aspiring writer, I don't think it's shorthand for meanings such as:

  • "Aspiring professional writer" -- meaning, the person is writing, but aims to someday be paid for her creative investment and output.
  • Or "aspring full-time pro writer" -- meaning, the person is writing, but aims to someday make a living wage from her wordherding.
  • Or "aspiring to complete a writing project" -- meaning, the person is writing, and aims to someday type The End or Fade To Black on her short story, novel or screenplay.

In my more literal view, the phrase means, "I am not writing, but am talking and dreaming about writing." Which might as well be, "I am masturbating." I am qualified to characterize this in such harsh terms because in my own life, I talked about writing fiction long before I actually wrote a word of it. These years of windbaggery added precisely zero words to my novel manuscripts or screenplays. I wasn't aspiring. I was wanking.

You're either writing, or you aren't. Unspoken qualifiers such as "being a writer means making money from one's words" or "being a writer means your entire income hails from writing" feel like strange constrictions to me, mental obstacles that young writers place before themselves to ... to ... I don't know what, precisely. Perhaps it's to:

  • Perpetuate some form of artistic self-loathing? (Oh, how writers love to hate their work.)
  • Ensure years of handwringing and self-doubt? (Writers are unhealthily preoccupied with the notion that they'll someday be discovered as no-talent hacks. They don't yet realize that the only writers who don't have that fear are, in fact, the no-talent hacks.)
  • Permit and maintain a level of mediocrity in the quality of their work? (Qualifiers such as "aspiring" permit such stagnation.)
  • Assign a tangible, rational goal to an intangible, downright spooky act? (Thereby justifying one's creative investment.)

Could be any, all, or none of these things. The only truth that I know is this: In my world, there are no aspiring writers. There are writers, and everyone else.

If you're writing, you're a writer. Own that fact. Be proud of it. Your pen is moving (or your fingers are typing), and that's a thousand times cooler and more committed than the douchebags who endlessly drone on about the books, poems, plays and movies they'll never write. You're not aspiring, because you're already doing the hard part.

Other aspects of the creative life -- such as making money from your words -- do indeed represent aspirational goals. Call yourself an "aspiring professional writer" if that is indeed your aim. But if you're writing, don't dare label yourself as an "aspiring writer." To do so undervalues what you're doing to you and others, and creates a disconnect between the challenging act you're already performing -- the very thing that makes writers writers -- and other aspects of the life.

I assure you: perform enough of the former (the act of writing) and you'll achieve the latter (the goal of getting paid or published, for instance). Your success may be wildly different than you ever imagined, as may your path to achieving it. But it will happen if you continue to put words on the page, and remain committed to improving your craft.

You don't need permission to write ... and you mustn't make money to call yourself a writer.

Writers write. That's it.

Those who don't, merely aspire.

--J.C.

Follow-Up: Winter Is Coming.

If you were dazzled by my recent Game of Thrones scent-based transmedia experience -- and were curious to learn where that unusual rabbit hole might lead us -- you'll be interested to read this email I received today from HBO:

Dear JC,

Thank you so much for sharing the Game of Thrones scent experience with your audience. We wanted to let you know that fans can now take the next step in this unique sensory journey by visiting TheMaestersPath.com.

The Maester's Path is an interactive journey into the world of Game of Thrones, where players can vie to become "maesters," the healers, teachers and advisers of this world.  Maesters wear chains as a symbol of their learning, each link representing one discipline. Players at TheMaestersPath.com earn "links" in their chains by completing a series of online challenges. In fact, the clues to answering the first of those challenges were hidden within the scent recipes you received.

The experience begins at TheMaestersPath.com -- we hope you and your readers may find it interesting.

Thanks,

The HBO Marketing Team

I visited the site -- it's incredible -- and savvily conquered the first online challenge. You can too, by checking out the photos at my original post about the GoT box, and then heading over to TheMaestersPath.com. Your keen eyes and curiosity will be rewarded!

I wish HBO the best of luck with its GoT campaign and series!

--J.C.

Winter Is Coming. (A Transmedia Fiction Experience with J.C.)

This afternoon, a package from HBO arrived at my doorstep. Curious, I grabbed my vidcam and documented what quickly became not only an awesome "unboxing" video, but an amazing -- and remarkably unconventional -- narrative journey. Ride shotgun with me as you get an unfiltered, as-it-happens look at this amazing HBO package as I experience it ... and learn a little about the world of HBO's upcoming fantasy series Game Of Thrones (based on the terrific novel series by George R.R. Martin) along the way.

For viewers who want a closer look at the images seen briefly in the videos, check the gallery below for larger versions.

And do be careful out there. Winter is coming.

--J.C

Click the image thumbnails below to view detail shots of the HBO package. (Click your browser's "back" button to return to this page, and the gallery.)

What's The ULTIMATE Revenge Movie?

 ( Probably not the ultimate revenge movie.)
(Probably not the ultimate revenge movie.)

I've spent the past few months chipping away at a few screenplays. One script -- a supernatural balls-to-the-wall actioner with a magma-hot hook -- is presently getting a polish by me and a co-writer (whose name I cannot yet divulge). Another screenplay started with a very strong concept, but competing obligations prevented another co-writer from dedicating appropriate creative bandwidth to the project. It's on ice for the time being.

Which happily frees my queue to pursue a third story, which I've been noodling on for nearly a year. The hook of this script prominently features themes with which 7th Son and Personal Effects fans are familiar: identity, sanity, and sanctity (both of the human body and mind). It also levels both barrels at many consumption- and brand-obsessed First World cultures.

I dare not share more about the concept, other than to say that this "near future" world I've created is one you've never seen, and the culture specifically will make your head spin like a top. Spin in a That's some cool shit kind of way.

I believe the very best sci-fi stories resonate because they successfully incorporate subgenres into their tales. Blade Runner's noir elements help make that unfamiliar world more accessible to a viewer. Consider Serenity's Western elements; they help deliver similar results. I contend that using mainstream-friendly subgenres helps make sci-fi feel palatable to wider audiences. It helps the story feel less sci-fi-ish, which I believe is a good thing.

I've been thinking hard about which subgenre to inject into my latest story ... and today, I turned my wicked eye toward the revenge movie. I love revenge flicks, as a third act filled with whup-ass is guaranteed. In addition, the subgenre plays nice with the loose outline I created for this story.

Unforgiven is my personal favorite revenge flick, but I knew I needed more reference material for creative inspiration. So I turned to YOU on Twitter and Facebook and asked:

What's the *very best* revenge movie you've seen? You can only pick one. Go!

And you sure as hell did. Here are your recommendations. There are some hella great flicks here. Fill up that Netflix queue, peeps.

  • Wes Platt recommends: El Mariachi
  • Tanya N. Kutasz: The Italian Job (the remake)
  • DC Perry, Brand Gamblin, Tony Southcotte, Jessika Oxford: Oldboy
  • Jared Axelrod: The Limey
  • Ted Wade, Adam Lefever, Ted Wade, Michelle Ristuccia: The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Tony Mast: Braveheart
  • Kevin Smokler: 9 to 5
  • Zach Ricks: Man on Fire
  • Scott Roche, Vivid Muse: Leon - The Professional
  • Johnny Ho, Jane Doh, Eliza Sea: Lady Vengeance
  • Tee Morris, Amber: The Sting
  • Neil Colquhoun: Jaws
  • C.C. Chapman: Hard Candy
  • Mary Rajotte: Heathers
  • Allen Sale: Theater of Blood
  • Seth, Karl Schild: Payback
  • Christiana Ellis, Duncan, Michael Falkner, Matthew Wayne Selznick, Tim Adamec: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
  • Martyn Casserly, Edward G. Talbot, Leandro Pezzente: The Princess Bride
  • Trisha Leigh: Lucky Number Slevin
  • Richard Green, Avery Tingle, Aaron Baldwin, Void Munashii: Kill Bill
  • Stuart Robertson, Billy Flynn: The Crow
  • Clinton: Aliens
  • Thomas Janci: Revenger's Tragedy
  • Douglas Hagler: Ransom
  • Josh Rosenfield: The Prestige
  • Adam Loyal: Dirty Work
  • J.R. Blackwell: Titus
  • James Auger: Memento
  • Gary Giovanetti: Death Race (the remake)
  • Robert Smith: Mad Max
  • Howard Dinatale: Get Carter (the original)
  • Dave Minkus: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Gregory Gunther: Taken
  • Carlene Worthington: Repo

I've seen a lot of these ... and there's a lot I haven't seen, or even heard of. The Count of Monte Cristo is absolutely the quintessential revenge story (I loved reading it way back in high school, and should revisit it), and the countless recommendations for Oldboy have my curiosity majorly piqued. Thanks to everyone who recommended their favorites.

I hope you'll check out some of these cool revenge flicks too. And if you'd like to recommend your ULTIMATE revenge flick pick, sound off in the comments!

--J.C.

Market Your Mojo: Jan. 3

Got something to sell, share or tell the world about? Promote it! Tell me -- and fellow readers -- about your killer product, service or work here in the comments. The rules:

  • Your comment must be 50 words or less.
  • Your comment must be rated PG-13.
  • Your product, service or work must be rated R or younger.

All clear? Good. Promote away.

--J.C.