Archive for March, 2011

The truth about Jason Dark

As you probably know by now, my Jason Dark mysteries are about a homeless Leprechaun who lays golden eggs and throws rainbows at people to make them go shave their heads so they can learn to inhale soup instead of eating it…

DraculaI’m just kidding, of course. I couldn’t fool anyone into believing that, but even though you know what my books are not about, it appears to me that many of you don’t really know exactly what they are about. So allow me to tell you a little more about one of my true works of passion.

When I grew up in Germany, horror movies were a rare commodity. Age limitations, which were rigorously enforced in those days, prevented me from going to see the latest bloodfests in theaters and the only way for me to experience horror movies were Saturday late night showings of classic horror films on TV. As a result, whenever a movie like “Horror of Dracula” was scheduled, that day was a veritable holiday for me. Even though I am dating myself now, please remember that this was in the days before home video or cable TV. Yes, such a time existed, in the not too distant past, actually.

EversonCombined with horror literature, this was the only way for me to experience horror in those days. I would pour over William K. Everson’s “Classics of the Horror Film” with its countless still photographs for endless hours, reading about the innumerable horror films I had never seen and those I had watched. The book was to me what the bible is to Catholics.

As a result I developed a deep and lasting love for classic horror movies — the great monster movies of Universal’s golden era, the German expressionist films by Murnau and Lang, the stylish films of Val Lewton, the work of Mario Bava, Roger Corman’s Poe-adaptations, Boris Karloff’s body of work and above all, the masterfully atmospheric Hammer Horror films. I literally ate these movies up and there is a really good chance that I could probably bore you to death with trivia details about films from that era.

This love for the classics of the genre has never abated and it was the forge in which the creation of Jason Dark, the hero of the many supernatural mysteries stories I have written, was shaped. But it actually goes a long way beyond that.

My love for detective stories and thrillers plays into this as well, along with a long-standing faible for a certain German dime novel series and my fascination with history.

When I began writing the first Jason Dark mystery, “Demon’s Night” I wanted to create something that has the intrigue of a detective story, the mystery of a classic horror movie, the emotional roller-coaster and action of a thriller and a dash of history.

But I can hear you — enough with the background, already, how did it turn out? What exactly can I expect from your books?

ripperThe Jason Dark mysteries are supernatural mysteries, period pieces, playing in Victorian England. To me the Victorian era is simply magical and the epitome of classic horror. I mean, look at the truly iconic monsters — Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll, Jack the Ripper… they are all creatures of the Victorian era. Even Edgar Allan Poe’s stories are mostly taking place during early Victorian times. For that reason I picked Victorian England as the backdrop for the Jason Dark books, and London, in particular, is the scene for many of the adventures, with its fog-shrouded nights and cobble-stone streets. Think of it as Sherlock Holmes on steroids, a super-sleuth fighting demons and monsters.

But there’s a lot more to it. Steampunk elements create an alternate world almost, in which Dark and his friends come up with magnificent inventions to track down evil.

Unlike modern day horror, the stories are not overly gruesome or gory. They use atmosphere to set the mood and give you shivers. I’m not a big fan of urban horror or splatter and to me it has always been much more fascinating to suggest horror rather than to explicitly show it. Nonetheless, there is plenty of blood in the stories to firmly place the adventures into the horror realm, but to me it is the traditional “gothic horror” of old rather than the cold, modern horror many people associate with the genre nowadays.

BathoryThe real spice in the stories, however, are the countless historic and literary references. It is hard for me to talk about these without spoiling the fun but you will find many, many names, locations and events that are rooted in actual history or are taken from literature. Don’t be surprised to stumble across people like Inspector Lestrade in a Jason Dark book, or square off with someone like the Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a notorious serial killer who killed over 600 people — I am not making this up. She was real!

There are tiny little breadcrumbs in every one of the books that readers can discover and even though each story is standing entirely on its own, when you read the books as a series, you will see how certain names and events actually lead up to others, how there is a recurring cast, how there are villains that just can’t be kept down, how there are world events that play in the overall narrative.

Van HelsingThe best thing I could probably compare the Jason Dark books to is probably Stephen Sommers’ 2004 movie “Van Helsing.” While purist horror fans may have wrinkled their noses at it, the fact of the matter is that it was a jolly good romp with great visuals, fun characters and action to boot. In many ways that is what my Jason Dark books are about, too, while always making sure not to take themselves too seriously.

Demon's NightSo, if you feel like this might actually be something that you would enjoy, feel free to head over to Amazon and grab a copy of
“Demon’s Night” for only 99 cents and give it a try. What do you have to lose, really? It’s less than a buck, less than a cup of Joe, less than a pack of gum… I mean, why not? If you’ve read this far in this blog post you’re obviously somewhat fascinated by the kind of books they are. I am pretty sure you’ll get some enjoyment out of it.

Et tu, Brute?

Demon's NightAs you may recall I recently reworked Demon’s Night, the first supernatural mystery featuring occult super-sleuth Jason Dark. In the past days I have also created a new cover of Ghosts Templar, another one of the Jason Dark mysteries. This was also an effort to make the book appeal to a larger audience, hopefully, in order to generate more sales.

While I was spending all that time on reworking my books over the past weeks, the question “How can I get more people to buy these books?” kept going through my mind and with it an idea germinated in my mind. A focus group… well, kind of, sort of… let me explain.

I know that many of you visiting this blog have not bought any of my books, probably never even read the sample. How do I know this? Well, I really just have to look at my server statistics and unique user numbers and compare them with my book sales and it is immediately obvious that my sales are in absolutely no relation to my blog visitors. The same is undoubtedly true for my Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

Ghosts TemplarNow, I do not want to shame you into buying my books here — not at all. Instead, I would like to know, why you have never bought one of my books — after all there are ten of them and I am honestly curious about the reasons.

As I said, look at it as a focus group. You are an audience and I am trying to sell books. Help me to find out how I can make my products more attractive and better by telling me the reasons why YOU decided not to purchase one.

If you simply don’t read horror or supernatural mysteries, fair enough. That is a valid reason. I’d probably never buy a romance or a poem book. It’s just not my bag.

If the covers were simply not attractive enough for you to take an interest, fair enough, please let me know, or if customer reviews turned you off.

If you thought that I am writing merely for my spiritual enrichment and that money or sales are of no import to me, feel free to let me know, just as you should let me know if you feel that Jason Dark is just a boring dude with a bad name.

Evidently, there is a reason why you haven’t bought any of the books… some reason, even if it is hidden in the recesses of your mind, even if you might be weary to pull it out in the open and face the truth… there IS a reason for each one of you, and I believe it would be helpful for me to hear what these reasons are.

Just to be clear, I am not interested in generalizations, opinions or chatter why people may not have bought the book. These kinds of notions are bountiful across the web and really not what I’m after. I want to know exactly why YOU in particular did not. Search your soul, please, and try to let me know as best as you could.

Again, let me stress that I do not wish to shame you into purchasing any of my books. I love to have you around one way or the other, but I also hope that by following me you do take some kind of interest in my work and if I fail to deliver, I’d like to know about it.

Cemetery DanceI feel kind of bad, and for some reason it feels weird. I am reading a book, you know. Not just any book. I started reading “Cemetery Dance” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, two of my favorite thriller authors. But that’s not why I feel bad. It is because I am actually reading it as a paperback!

I think I heard you gasp right there, did I not? Yeah, I know… It’s been moths since I read a print book. Many months. Many, many months, in fact — and it feels awkward.

I’ve been reading books on my Kindle for 2 years now and I have been editing and revising my own books on the iPad for months now. It’s all been digital and I am simply not used to reading print any more. If you laugh now, when was the last time you read a physical book?

It all came about because of Borders’ closing. Over the weekend I visited their Pasadena stores, which is scheduled to close, and began to browse their bookshelves. Everything 25 – 50% off! May books for as little as one dollar.

It was hard to resist, even though I didn’t really like the situation as a whole. See, I love Borders. Their warm, welcoming no-pressure atmosphere, complete with occasional live music and author readings, is just the greatest thing ever. Even after owning a Kindle I still visited their store frequently and gave them my patronage, buying books for my own research library, books for the kids, books to donate to the school library, anything I could do to help keep them in business.

Sadly all those buttheads leeching off the store’s generosity didn’t feel the same kind of obligation. Reading entire books for free, doing research, studies and homework for hours, days and weeks on end, checking out the latest magazine issues — all of it without ever actually buying a copy. Instead some of those morons even had the audacity to complain about the lack of free refills in the coffee shop.

It pains me to see how this company has been exploited by its own customers to the point of delinquency. It boggles my mind that people are so self-centered that they never seem to be abele to think beyond their own egoistical needs. Their sense of entitlement is bigger than their sense of responsibility. It’s every bit as retarded as the guy who cuts you off on the freeway and then flips you off when you give him a flash him as a warning to prevent an actual fender-bender.

I felt terrible, not only for the employees who kept diligently trying to keep the shelves in order. For some reason everyone seems to think this store is now a free-for-all and it is okay to just drop books on the floor or to shove them in any free shelf you might find. The store employees can barely keep up with the mess the riffraff leaves behind in their wake. Shameful!

But I also felt bad for purchasing the discounted books. Are you nuts? You might ask, but the problem is that in this kind of sale — remember Borders has filed for chapter 11 — the monies from sales are actually not going to Borders but to a liquidator instead. The liquidator’s job is to try and male as much money from Borders’ assets and inventory — and in a limited amount of time. The liquidator then pays the people that Borders is owing money to. Typically in proceedings like this, however they will only pay about 20 cents to the dollar. So, if Borders owed me $1,000, for example, I would get paid only around $200 even though I have provided services and products worth the full $1,000.

To put it in plain English — everyone gets screwed. Everyone except the liquidator who skims his own payment in full off the top — naturally.

That is why I feel bad when buying these discounted books, because I know that the authors, being the last link in the chain, will end up seeing even less of their minuscule royalties. I mean, A LOT less… Pretty much nothing, actually, as publishers typically have contract clauses in place that make sure they do not have to share revenues from such sales. As I said, everyone gets screwed.

I still could not resist and bought three books, but in all honesty, now that I think about it, I could have bought them as Kindle books instead — at the same price most likely — I feel even worse, because if I had, at least the authors would have made some decent money on the sales. Bummer… I apologize. I will restrain myself next time.

The Emperor’s new Clothes

Occasionally it seems we all are apt to ignore even our own recommendations, somehow too occupied with what we’re doing, I suppose, to stop for a moment and analyze where we are.

Book covers are my case in point today. As many of you may know, I have talked about the importance of strong covers on numerous occasions on mailing lists, message boards and blogs, including Self-Publishing Review. At the same time, when I submitted my books to scrutiny on J.A. Konrath’s blog a little while ago, it became evident that my own covers do not quite meet the criteria I had set out for others. Or maybe they did, but they did rather put my books into too small a niche to become successful.

Demon's Night V1Here is a look at Demon’s Night, the first Jason Dark supernatural mystery I wrote. When I first published it in December 2009, I deliberately recreated the look and feel of the traditional dime novels I grew up with. I expected the print market to be my main outlet and in print, these covers work beautifully with their rich cover artwork and the unified layout the suggests a series.

With this being what they are, just as I released the book, the eBook market exploded and within months it became obvious that print is on its way out, while the Kindle and Nook now generate the majority of today’s book sales, particularly when you’re not published by a New York publishing house. While this is, of course, a very desirable development as it cuts down on production costs and increases revenues, I soon found that it also changed the way I had to approach the presentation of my books.

Some time last year my wife and I redesigned the covers in response to those changes in the marketplace. We needed to make sure that the covers work on computer displays, particularly as very small thumbnails. To accommodate that requirement the updated covers zoomed in on the key feature of the cover artwork and got rid of all the ancillary details, including the series logo and any unused space.

Demon's Night V2Here is a look at the updated version of the cover Thu-Lieu created specifically for the eBook market.

I liked these improvements quite a bit but I ignored one fact in particular until a number people pointed it out to me in plain English. The covers still looked “pulpy.” This, of course, has been my desire all along but as my friend Scott Nicholson put it to me, “There is a reason the pulp era ended.”

Wham! Can you say wake-up call? The funny thing is, that this was nothing new to me. I knew that, naturally, and I knew the risks going into it the way I did. However, what Scott’s remark did, along with the comments of some other people, was to remind me that it simply might be necessary for me to “unpulp” the look of my books to find an audience. While people may not mind to read a pulp-style novel, trying to sell it to them with a pulp fiction cover simply may not have helped my game.

Willie Meikle might be a perfect example of this. He is the master of modern pulp in many ways, and he sells very well. However, a quick look at this covers show us that his books look every bit as slick as any other authors. Aha… some cogs began to spin in my head.

Fortunately, in the digital world changes are easily and quickly made, and it is possible to evaluate the performance of a book cover fairly easily. With that in mimd I decided to try and take my books in a completely new direction and see what will happen. Time will tell if all of this is right or if this is just another harebrained attempt, but in all honesty, I do feel good about this.

Demon's Night V1 For the past days I have labored over the redesign of the cover for “Demon’s Night” and you can see the final result here.

So, what do you think of it?

It may look simple, now that it is completed, but it took some time to get to this. My first attempt at a new cover was uniformly panned by my wife and friends as still being too pulpy. I was hitting a wall and just could not get past my i initial concepts. It was only when I decided to completely forgo the original cover artwork that I finally felt some fresh ideas surface.

From there it became a very iterative process of trial and elimination. I tried different fonts, different colors, different layouts and spatial arrangements, different font sizes, different color themes and so forth, until I finally ended up with the cover you see above.

I am sure you will agree with me that no longer does this look like a pulp story but like a horror story. At the same time I tried to retain a bit of a series character by using a dimmed version of my London skyline, which also conveys the setting of the book.

Best of all, however, this cover works wonderfully as a small-size thumbnail, which I think is crucial to generate interest on sites like Amazon.

I am eager to see how this cover will perform. Combined with a new product description and a clear “Supernatural Mystery” moniker in the title I am hopeful that the book will now be able to carve out its proper space in the market. If things work out, I will redesign the other books in a similar fashion.

You can now find the new version of “Demon’s Night” on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble, Apple’s iBookstore and other retailers for only 99 cents! Hey, I even updated the Smashwords version, which should go a long way to show you how dedicated I am to these changes because ordinarily I don’t do anything on Smashwords any more.

Clearly, there has never been a better time to check out one of my books, so please feel free to grab a copy!

In the past weeks I have read two new books and I wanted to take a moment real quick to tell you about them because I enjoyed them very much.

As I pointed out on numerous occasions, I am a fan of Clive Cussler’s “Dirk Pitt” adventures but at the same time I do have to admit that I do find them a bit lackluster at times, without a whole lot of depth and occasionally rather forgettable plots. In short, they are to books what popcorn movies are to cinema. Entertaining but nothing really lasting.

In a thread on a message board recently someone was asking about good authors who write Clive Cussler-style stories and I followed the conversation with interest, checking out the books that were suggested in the discussion. One of them caught my attention right away — Rogue Wave by Boyd Morrison.

I read the description and immediately liked what was there so I grabbed a copy onto my Kindle and begun reading. It is a very cool book that gets pretty intense at times with emotion. Like a great disaster flick, the story revolves around a group of people as they struggle to survive the greatest tsunami ever to sweep the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.

One of the fun things about the book was that I read the second half of it on my flight to… Oahu. Yes, you read that right. I stepped out of the airplane and immediately began to look for the landmark buildings described in the book. I checked out Waikiki beach and imagined seeing the humungous tidal wave on the horizon, trying to fathom what it would be like if a wave several hundred feet in height would in fact roll into this bay.
But even without all of that, “Rogue Wave” kept me on the edge of my seat. I don’t recall who suggested this books as being “in the vein of a Clive Cussler adventure” because it couldn’t be further from it, but I am definitely glad I did pick it up. So if you’re in the mood for some adrenaline-filled disaster story, take a look at this book.

Right after “Rogue Wave” I decided to finally read William Meikle’s Island Life. I’ve wanted to check out this book for the longest time and somehow always forgot. Now the time was right and it did not disappoint at all.

Think of “Island Life” as John Carpenter’s “The Fog” meets H.P. Lovecraft/Robert E. Howard and you get the idea. This is a rollicking horror tale that is a creepy as it is fascinating. Written in the true spirit of pulp fiction, the story is filled with cool characters that are killed off before you even know it, making the book a who-will-survive thrill ride from beginning to end.

The strongest point, however, is the book’s atmosphere. Like in John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” the fog enshrouding the remote island off the coast of Scotland is a central character that provides a brooding cloak to the mysterious — and deadly — events. Sprinkled with pagan rituals, strange creatures from a seemingly different world and wonderfully flawed main characters, this book is a pure joyride for genre fans. Again, I am glad that I have picked this book up because I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Right now I’m in the process of deciding what to read next. I haven’t made up my mind yet, because most of my reading time is currently occupied by reading and revising my latest Jason Dark adventure, but in a few days I will need a new book. I honestly hope that something will catch my attention by then, or I will be doomed!