Category Archives: Uncategorized

Writing: Why do we make up stories?

author photo_tony simmons

(Author Tony Simmons)

The following is the second in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.

Mark: That brings me to my second question: What is it in us that demands that storytelling? I think you go to your caveman, and other people (with him) like stories but there’s probably only one person in the tribe or village that’s a storyteller, and he’s probably a shaman or he’s painting on the walls — “Oh, that was the best hunt ever!” (The number of storytellers is) probably a bigger percentage of the population now because the tools are available to write, but telling stories has always (come from) a small part of the population. I think it only feels big now because there’s so many people publishing. Why is it a small part, and why are people like us driven to tell stories?

Tony: If you strip all the publishing away from it and get down to storytelling, I think everybody tells stories. Every conversation we have with our loved ones, we’re telling stories. If my Mom calls and tells me about an uncle that’s not doing well, she’s storytelling. As a people, a species, we developed language and writing — well, in part to keep track of what we were telling —

Mark: To give it permanence, because we wanted to give stories multi-generations.

Tony: But in those days, and up until recently, most people couldn’t read and write, but everybody would go down to the square to hear the town crier tell what happened in the court, or gather around their radio to listen to serials.

Mark: My grandfather told stories on the porch, and neighbors would come over to listen.

Tony: When it comes to writing, I think the difference between most people and people like you and me is the difference between a child drawing a picture with crayons and the artist painting a landscape or portrait. We found something in us that felt fulfilled and we were drawn further to continue filling that empty hole in our hearts.

Mark: You’re so driven, you spend years learning the technical skills, just like a painter. You take it way beyond what most people would do because you spent all these years developing it. If everyone else did that, you’d have a lot more people who were writers. They’d end up at the same place.

Tony: It is a craft, and it can be taught. It can be learned. Those of us who felt drawn to it also had to learn it —

Mark: Over a long period of time —

Tony: With a lot of trial and error. … If I turn away from it for too long, as you do from time to time, I actually feel heartsick, like there’s something missing. That ‘something’ is telling those stories. At least, for me it is.

Mark: Sometimes it’s the only way I can cheer myself up. If I sit down and start writing, within an hour or two I’m smiling and happy again. It’s unreal. It’s weird how sometimes you purposely turn away from it, then you think, “What the heck was I thinking? Why am I not doing that?”

Tony: What are we hoping to do is to write something that’s going to affect somebody. That they’re going to carry with them, share with other people, and it’s going to make their world a better world, and it’s going to go on beyond you, after you’re long gone. Or, we could just be writing stories to have fun with. If we’re lucky, we’ll be like H. Rider Haggard and a hundred years after we’re gone people will still be making movies out of our stories.

In the next post, we’ll talk about how writers and readers can refill the creative well.

(Check out Tony’s stories, available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.)

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100 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels but no solitude.

20k leagues

So today Amazon sent me an email with the intriguing subject line, “100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime.” I hit the link to see what books they deemed worthy for their list.

If you like scifi and fantasy, it’s fun to scroll through the list and count the books you’ve read. I included books I started but quit, since at least I tried them. Almost every author name was familiar to me, but I didn’t count that familiarity. For instance, I read Asimov’s Foundation series, but not I, Robot (which is on the list), so I did not count that.

My score? 37. Not bad, I think. How did you do?

We could quibble on some of their picks. Sad that they left out Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Howard, but glad to see the versatile Dan Simmons made the cut. I thought it skewed toward more modern works, and the classifications were broad. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a one of my favorites (the whole Narnia series is), but I’d call it ‘Christian allegory’ or a ‘children’s book.’ No big deal.

For much of my life, the science fiction section of the library and bookstore was a single entity. There was no real concept of fantasy as a separate genre. Again, that’s fine as there is usually a strong overlap in readers. It wasn’t until both genres grew so big that we began to divide them, and even carve subsections like ‘epic fantasy’ and ‘cyberpunk.’

Still, it’s fun to look over the 100 and remember books we read in our youth, and others we missed and can now add to our lists.

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Where is the sequel?

creative con 2015

A bit of explaining:

My new science fiction trilogy is almost complete, and the plan is to release all three books at the same time. However, I was invited to the Panama City Creative Con 2015 event on 1 August, and I wanted to bring something new. So I ordered 25 copies of the first book for my author table.

Folks bought the new book, titled Superheroes Aliens Robots Zombies. If they read it and go on Amazon looking for the sequel, they’ll be all, “Where the heck is the sequel? Mark totally cliffhangered me!” Before readers assemble in the town square with pitchforks and torches, I assure you I’m working to get Book 2 and Book 3 completed as soon as possible. I hope to release them in both paperback and ebook on Amazon in September, so you won’t have to wait long.

Thanks to everyone who came by the table to visit, and I appreciate your support of my work.


Mark Boss

The pic is courtesy of Rob Danna and was taken at Creative Con 2015. Pictured are authors Nick May, Tony Simmons, and me. You should check out Nick and Tony’s books.

Promoting Your Book with a Goodreads Giveaway

In an effort to learn how to use Goodreads, and to promote my thriller, ONE BULLET, I tried my first giveaway. A quick search online will find you a few dozen popular articles on how to conduct a Goodreads giveaway. However, not many of the articles provide any advice on how to deliver the actual books.  But we’ll get to that in a moment…

First, let’s start with how many copies. Advice from articles as far back as 2012, tells you to give 50 copies or at least 25. This is not financially feasible for many writers, and newer advice says 3 to 5 copies. I decided on 3.

Time period. Again, older articles say to run the giveaway for a month, and get lots of entries. Newer articles advise short giveaways of 5 days, but to run them more frequently. I blocked out a five-day period of Sunday through Thursday.

Promotions. Goodreads makes you a nice little widget. You can copy/paste the widget into your sites and readers have a succinct ad with a button. But the widget would not work in Facebook, which seems a prime place to have such a widget. I settled for placing the widget in my blog and on my author site, and for Facebook I pasted a link to the giveaway on Goodreads.

Geography. A helpful article suggested including the entire world, or at least the countries where English is the main language. Without thinking, I followed this advice and opened the contest to the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. This was stupid on my part, because I didn’t consider the shipping costs. I suggest you focus on the country where you sell the most and where it costs you the least to send. Remember, you’re dealing with paper books, not ebooks.

Entries. Goodreads states the average giveaway receives 800 entries, and gosh, that sounds pretty good. I saw an initial surge of a few hundred entries on the first day, then a lull, and a surge the last day before the contest ended.  Total was 748 entries, which appears a bit below average. Then I looked at the giveaways and saw books which had 5 or 12 entries, and other books by famous authors that had 3,000 entries. Maybe the average is 800, but there are a lot more obscure authors than famous authors, and I’m in the obscure category, so I was happy with 748.

Costs. Oh boy, this is where you second guess your decision. There isn’t much detailed advice on how to do this, so I’ll tell you my experience and you can do what you think is best.  First, of my 3 winners, 2 were in Canada and 1 in the UK. What? So 3 of 3 are outside the US? I find that…improbable.

The first step is to decide how to fulfill the winning entries. You can order on Createspace or Amazon and send the book directly to the winners. Or you can have the books sent to you, then sign them and include a nice ‘thank you’ note, then ship them to the winner. The problem with the second way is that you pay shipping twice, which really jacks up your costs. So don’t promise a signed copy unless you have the budget to handle the second method. Sending twice seems wasteful to me, so I decided on the first method.

Anyway, I looked at Amazon and Createspace, and while the shipping costs were fairly close, the price of the book isn’t. For instance, on Winner A in Canada, using Createspace, I paid 5.17 USD for the book and 6.99 for shipping for total of 12.16.  For Winner B in Canada, using Amazon, I paid 8.27 for the book plus 7.48 for shipping, for total of 15.75.  The weird part is that the total for the book and shipping (on Createspace) to send to the UK winner was 10.05. So it’s cheaper to send from the US to the UK than to Canada? Again, what?

The one advantage to Amazon is the ability to tag the book a “gift.” This means you can type a personal note thanking the reader and encouraging them to leave a review. The Goodreads email about the contest results specifically asks you not to contact the winners with private messages, so having the Amazon option available is useful.

Total cost for books and shipping = 37.96.

Results. Of the 748 entries, 352 people added my book to their “to read” list. Will they follow through later and sample or buy it? I don’t know, and only time will tell. Two of them rated the book, which is nice. I am curious if there will be a rise in sales in the next month, and will I get a few more reviews.

Similar to most types of promotions, it’s hard to draw a solid line from the promotion to a sale. Rather, you’re left with the vague idea that you’ve somehow made more people aware of your book’s existence, and that is good. I’d like to have enough sales to at least pay for the shipping costs and break even, but we’ll see.

Are these giveaways a good idea? I don’t know. Since I don’t have 700 followers on Twitter, or 700 friends on Facebook, reaching 700 new people sounds helpful. And it reached people on Goodreads, who actually read books, so that’s nice. Perhaps what this article can do is give you some idea of the costs BEFORE you stage a giveaway, and help you consider what you might do differently and better. As one indie writer to another, I wish you luck.