[sticky post]My novel Char is up for Kindle Scout
This post will stay at the top of my posts until November 2nd. New posts will fill in beneath it.

I entered my latest (hopeful soon to be published) sort of Alternate History novel as a candidate in Amazon's Kindle Scout program. Kindle Scout is Amazon's latest attempt at selecting novels by crowd-sourcing and they have apparently learned a lot of lessons from past failures at attempts to find good new writers through crowd-sourcing. Hopefully Amazon has gotten it right.

In any case, Char needs your nominations. It's a free and easy process. Just click on the link below and then click on "Nominate." If Amazon chooses Char, you get a free e-book copy of it.


Here is the blurb:

Lost cave-woman or time-hopping murderess?

Near a small Wisconsin town, Char of the Real People walks out of a mud hole she didn't walk into, wearing a deerskin skirt and carrying a crude wooden spear. She promptly gets involved in a murder. Sheriff Francine Hart launches a massive search for Char, but is baffled by 'wrong' footprints and blood samples. More people die, intensifying the mystery. Is Char 'the murderess from dimension X'? Is she a lost, traumatized kid? What does the mysterious Darius Reid have to do with her arrival?

I discovered National Novel Writing Month eight years ago and have participated in it every year, writing at least the 'required' 50,000 words in a month every year, and usually around 75,000. I think of myself as a professional writer, so I try to harness the NaNoWriMo energy to something that helps my writing goals. That usually means a lot of plotting before the month, so I don't use up my words on false starts that don't end up usable.

I can write seat of my pants and end up with a novel. There are some advantages to writing that way. My muse runs loose and goes cool places my more organized outlining brain would never have figured out to go. There is a downside, though. It takes MUCH longer for me to revise a book that I wrote seat of pants than one I carefully plotted. An hour of plotting seems to result in a high multiple of that number of hours in reduced revision time. Unfortunately, this year I put a lot of time that I would have put into plotting my NaNo novel into promoting my existing novels and running my Kindle Scout campaign for Char. Result: I'm not quite writing seat of pants. I have done some plotting and have some scenes/characters figured out, but I'm nowhere near as ready to go as I hoped I would be. Result: undoubtedly I'll write myself into more dead ends and spend more time in revisions than I need to.

Oh well. That's all in the future. Right now I'm feeling the joy of creating, having an enormous amount of fun writing a story.

Ever notice how stories that seem so great when you first write them look really crude and embarrassing when you look at them again in six months? I certanly have and it makes me cautious about putting excerpts from rough drafts, especially seat of pants rough drafts, out where people can see them. At the same time, I tend to love my new manuscripts and want to share them. So, here is a little taste of my NaNo novel:

The universe is out to get me. Yep. Me personally. All that stuff about Lucky Simon is crap. The universe sets out cheese in a mousetrap for me and then waits for me to grab it. Or maybe it's more like a hook with a worm. Nice, juicy worm. Just floating out there waiting for the Simon Hatcher fish to bite down on it. And when I do, there is the hook.

The Good Luck Simon spiel? That's skill. A sharp eye. Hands that can fix a plane anyone else would give up on. So far the universe has always left me with one way out of its traps--some way that a smart enough guy who doesn't give up can maybe get out. Maybe it doesn't want the game to end. Maybe it was setting me up for this final thunderclap of death all the other times I thought I had escaped.

I suppose you're wondering what I'm doing over this godforsaken stretch of a Tourist-stretched Snapshot. If you've been living under a stone for fourteen years, you might even be wondering what a Tourist is and what a Snapshot is.

Snapshots are a birthday present and a challenge from the universe to me. The Tourists copied Europe on my tenth birthday--February 17, 1939. The birthday present: they took a boring old world that had all been explored and replaced it with a new universe where a guy like me can spend a lifetime exploring and not ever run out of places to look.

They also took something very important to a ten year old boy, because they only copied Europe, not North America. Not the rest of the world either, but only North America really mattered to me.

And even now, fourteen years later, I don't want to talk about that--don't even want to think about that. I'll take those feelings to my fiery demise, thank you.

Of course it was dad who stayed in England and who raised me the rest of the way, sort of, between bouts of business and bouts of being unfaithful to my mother, who is not dead, no matter what the scientists say.

I'm scanning the forest as I chat with you, my imaginary friends. These sharp eyes are looking for any hint of a clearing. I don't expect to see one, especially not one big enough to land in. These smart hands are nursing the engine, working to get a few more miles out of it, not that it looks as though a few more miles will matter, not in the middle of this forest. They call this a stone forest, but the rocks look more like fangs than trees.

Don't look down, right? But I have to if I'm going to land this old string-bag. Damn Tourists. Adventure. It's a bitch. It comes to you if you look for it. I've looked for it all of these last ten years. And it finds me and tries to kill me, over and over again.

My father says "settle down and start a family", to which I say "settle down and make kids like me, get fat and bald like you and chase women your son's age until one of them catches you and eventually your money."

Yeah, dad and I never did get along, not after mom left our lives. I blamed him for her being back in New York when the Snapshot happened. I still do. No last second reconciliation, not even in my own mind.

God, these stone trees just go on and on. This is overkill, universe. You could have killed me with a quarter of these trees. Even if I made it through this, I would still go through the vent to the new Snapshot I found and you'll have more than enough chances to kill me over there.

I mentioned god. The Tourists aren't gods, no matter what the crazies say. Yes, they can copy a whole continent, with every human, animal and geographic feature. They can even copy and then stretch it if they want to. Godlike powers. Just no interest in people. They fly around in their huge black ships, ignoring missiles and cannons and planes as though they aren't there. They only talk to backwoods preachers and drunks. At least that's who claims to get the word, the secrets of this new universe.

And people like me really find out about the new universe, find new Snapshots, risk our lives trying to find the truth. Well, in this case, I'm trying to get unbelievably filthy rich, but then I plan to use that money to explore the universe, so I guess it works out to about the same thing.

Fabled treasures, like the Comstock Lode, the gold that sparked the California and Alaska gold rushes. All laying there for the taking. All I need to get to them is a history book and a plane. Well, actually, it takes a lot more than that, as I've figured out since I started this project. It took enough more that I had to go to my father to finance the enterprise. Maybe that's why the universe is finally going to bite down on me instead of keeping the game going.

Going to my father in spite of the way I feel about him. That's low. Maybe the universe doesn't want to play anymore. Maybe going to my father took me out of the worthy opponent class.

Yes, my father and I are going to steal the big historic treasures of North America--the new copy of North America I found a few months ago and have kept a big secret, in spite of the big boost finding it would have given my ever-so-slightly fading fame. I didn't have enough money for the job and couldn't figure out how to get more without going to people I knew I couldn't trust with a secret this big.

My father, bastard though he is, I trust. If he says we'll split the take fifty-fifty, that's exactly what he'll do. So I make the bastard richer than he already is. He makes me rich enough that I'll never again have to go to anyone hat in hand for an exploring mission. But what happens when I die here?

Somebody will eventually find the gate to the new Snapshot. Maybe my father will find another pilot and do what we planned to do. He'll probably even convince himself that it's some kind of memorial to me, an honor that he ends up rich and I end up dead. Bastard.
And he's taking wifey with him. Pushing her twenty-something jugs and butt in my face. Saying, "I can still get a girl younger and prettier than anything you can bring home." Yeah, with enough zeros in your bank account, you can. Of course wifey is playing salami games with the help and would probably play them with me if I didn't find that idea unbelievably vomit-inducing. The whole thing is vomit-inducing, but I'll have to deal with it for the next few months, assuming I survive. That's actually a pretty fair reason not to survive, not that I would ever not try as hard as I can to survive. I'm going to play the game to the end, whether the universe plays fair or not.

Rambling? Guilty. What do you expect from a guy who is minutes from fiery death? No, I don’t want to die. Yes, the great Simon Hatcher is afraid. There. I said it. Scared.

It’s pretty down there, if you can ignore the rows of rocky fangs. Maybe fangs isn’t quite it. How about tombstones? Millions of tombstones crowded together. A cemetery the size of a European country. Patches of green punch through the rocks. Life is ferocious, persistent, stronger than rock if you give it enough time. I'm low enough now that I can see animals moving down there--ant-sized dots that are undoubtedly lemurs, big ones. Everything is lemurs down there. Cute little things that look like a raccoon and a monkey did the nasty, then hit their off-spring with a too-cute stick. Only down there, lemurs aren't just the cute little things they had on dirtball Earth. Some of them mutated into lemur Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my. So my ultimate fate is to be crapped out of a mutated lemur. That's assuming I don't burn up entirely in the crash.

So, I'm playing out my last minutes on Earth talking to imaginary friends. I can embrace my insanity with a whole heart, because it doesn't matter anymore. And don't get me started on whether a Snapshot is really Earth. It isn't. A Snapshot is a copy of a continent, made for unfathomable reasons by unfathomably powerful and alien beings who don’t want to talk to us or save us or be worshiped by us.

But Snapshots are as close as we can get to Earth in this universe. Unless, of course, the next vent we find takes us back home to Dirtball Earth.

Am I really looking for a way home? The famous daredevil explorer Simon Hatcher--is he really just a kid looking for his mommy? The psychologists would have a great old time with that one, wouldn't they? I'll have to swear you to secrecy, my imaginary friends, assuming that I get out of this alive. If I end the day as charred protein in a lemur's lower intestines, I guess it doesn't matter much, does it?

Nothing changes down there, at least nothing that matters. The little patches of green between the rock fangs may be a bigger or smaller. The tombstones may be sharper or flatter. A few may have fallen. But it's all the same pattern: Sharp rocks spaced way too close for a plane to land.

After Kindle Scout, What Next?
My Kindle Scout campaign for Char ends tonight. What am I planning to do next?

Char will make it to market one way or the other later this year. After that, I have a backlog of other books that should be hitting the virtual shelves late this year or in the first half of next year.

The next book out should be an anthology of essays and stories tentatively called "Alternate Animals". It's sort of like American Indian Victories, a collection of mostly Alternate History scenarios and stories, but in this case the stories involve animals that either died out or never developed in reality playing a major role. Is this alternate history or alternate biology? Sometimes it's a mix of the two. In any case, these are some of the stories and essays I like best among the ones I've written, and I want to make them more accessible. All the stories are written and most have been edited. They just need final edits and some cleanup. Goal: To have this out in mid-December.

Next up: Probably "Galveston Run." It's a prequel to my novel Snapshot and in many ways a far better story. It's set in the 1990s in a Snapshot (think Alternate Reality with some twists) where the Spanish conquistadors set up independent kingdoms in Mexico after the conquest, creating a hybrid Spanish/Indian culture. The Snapshot setup allows a unique set of interactions between a sort of modern US and this culture. It's a lot of fun--a surviving Tsarist Russia competing with a version of the US over the conquistador-led timeline in something very much like the Great Game between Britian and Russia. The rough draft is finished and most of the editing is done. However the last ten thousand words or so needs a total rewrite, so I'm guessing this one won't make it out until January or February 2016.

After that, I'm hoping to get another American Indian Victories collection out the door, this one with a higher percentage of fiction. The original American Indian Victories has, surprisingly, been the easiest sale among my books over the years. It has a niche, not a large one, but a solid one that eagerly buys it. Hopefully, I can give that niche more of what they want. I have most of the essays and stories writen for this one, but it needs a lot of editing. Figure some time in the first half of 2016 if all goes well.

I've often been overly optomistic about what I can achieve, but I'm hoping to get at least one more novel out the door in 2016: One tentatively titled "There Will Always Be An England." It has an unlikely premise: Two weeks after D-day, the Germans manage to send 1944-era Britain back to the last interglacial, swapping it for the version from about 125,000 years ago. This story is a lot of fun. I play it totally straight once I do the impossible swap--with everything happening as close to what really would have happened as my knowledge of World War II history and logistics can make it. People who have seen the preliminary manuscript love this one. World War II is always popular. Add in a Britain trying to survive in a world inhabited by Neanderthals and a bunch of cool mysteries as to how Britain is able to exist back there without wiping out its future self and hopefully this one will be a winner. The rough draft is almost done, and most of it is edited but some major characters are currently about a millimeter thick, not even cardboard, so I need to flesh them out more.

I have other projects in the pipeline, including the rough draft of another Snapshot novel, the sequel to the one I currently have out there. It needs a lot of work, and it's unlikely that I'll get it out before the end of next year.

So hopefully five more books out there in a year and two months. That's ambitious, but I think it's doable. I hope you enjoy the additonal books as much as I'm enjoying writing them.

Kindle Scout, Alternate History and Promoting Books
Have you ever slept with a blanket that isn't quite long enough? Either your feet are cold or your shoulders are. I've felt that way about my time for the last three weeks. There just isn't enough of it to do everything I really need to do.

The big time sink: My KIndle Scout campaign. You can read about Kindle Scout in earlier posts. Bottom line: It's a hybrid between traditional pubbing and self-publishing where Amazon offloads some of the functions of traditional publishers onto the author, has them do a marketing trial run, but gives a moderate advance and does some quality control. It's also a way to drive an obsessive person absolutely nuts. Amazon has authors do a marketing trial run that lasts 30 days. In those 30 days the author has to solicit "nominations" for their book. If you nominate the book and it gets accepted, you get a free Kindle copy of the book. It's a good way to get buzz started for the book and hopefully some early reviews. It's also a way to see how serious the author is about marketing. Amazon doesn't tell authors how many nominations they got, nor do they tell you how much of a role the nominations play in their selections. The process is a somewhat of a black box. They do give you, once a day, a tantalizing collection of statistics that sort of kind of indirectly indicates how you're doing.

The novel I entered is called Char. Char is an interesting tweak on the time-traveler or time-hopper theme. She's from a technologically primitive society and suddenly finds herself in the modern US. What can you do with that scenario that doesn't play it for laughs or turn into a lecture on the noble savage? I think I manage to pull off a unique story with a lot of unexpected twists. We'll see if Amazon thinks so.

In any case, I went all out in the marketing, but started out with more to learn than I should after publishing four novels. My first attempt at spreading the word was to simply spread the link to Char on the Scout campaign site and a brief explanation:

Char is a candidate for Amazon's Kindle Scout program. Nominating it is quick, easy (just click on Nominate) and if Char is selected, you get a free Kindle copy. The link is:

Not compelling. I got some visits to the campaign site, but nowhere near enough. I tried adding a picture and blurb:

That was after a quite a few abortive tries, and wasn't too bad. One of my Wombat friends who has a business making blurbs for authors was nice enough to give me some blurb advice. It mostly boiled down to: You're too wordy. Distill the story down to a few sentences. The blurb above was iteration five or six on that, and it tells a good hunk of what the story is about.

I kept dinking with it and came up with a few variations, not necessarily better, but with a different perspective:

And finally, in some ways my favorite:

I'm reasonably happy all three of those, and have used them in rotation in various places.

Speaking of "various places", there are a ton of "promote your book" sites on Facebook and elsewhere. I used a bunch of them, but the problem is that most of them aren't science fiction or mystery specific. You're competing for attention with a Romance, Porn, Cookbooks, Conspiracy Theory stuff and the volume of promotions that go on those sites is staggering. What I haven't found, at least not to any great extent, are genre-specific places for authors to promote their books.

I started a Facebook group for Author Alternate History promotions and I'm hoping that will eventually be a useful tool for both writers and readers. It's going to take time to police it though and the niche might be too narrow to be viable. The ideal would be promotional sites for anything science fiction, but I haven't found anything like that devoted to promotion.  I can't believe there isn't something like that around. If I don't find anything, I'll reluctantly start it myself. I say reluctantly because, as I noted at the beginning, I'm already spread too thin, and policing a group like that to keep it from getting trashed up with spam would take time I'm reluctant to devote to it.

The AH Facebook group is at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/904414939641133/ I would like to see it become a resource for writers and readers.  I'm hoping it becomes kind of a counterpart (not a rival) of Uchronia--a place for people to find the small-press and self-published AH that doesn't make it onto Uchronia.


Cheap e-books
Not long ago, I signed up for three bargain e-book mailing lists: Bookbub, Fussy Librarian and E-book News Daily. As a result, the e-books are piling up on my Kindle. All three of those mailing lists let you choose a genre or genres and then give you a daily list of books in tht genre that are on sale or temporarily free.

Given a Kindle and a ravenous appetite for books, the e-mail list services are a good way to keep yourself in books cheaply. However, if you aren't extremely selective you'll end up with a lot of crappy stuff on your Kindle that you'll never read.

I've tried very hard to avoid accumulating crap, but I don't have a lot of sales resistance to science fiction books, especially free or 99 cent science fiction books that I don't have to physically trip over. So far, I'm not totally overrun and have found a few good books I wouldn't have found otherwise, so overall I'm glad I subscribed. I do want to emphasize the selective part of using these lists. I'm much more selective than I want to be and, as noted, unread books are still piling up to some extent.

A Little Taste of Char
I'm still looking for nominations for my novel Char for Amazon's Kindle Scout program. Nominations are free, quick and easy. Just click on the link below and then click on nominate. If Amazon chooses Char for Kindle Scout, anyone who has nominated it gets a free e-book copy.


Here is a little taste of what Char is all about:

The dream felt solid. The night breeze felt right. The touch of Char's bare feet on the ground, the brush of the leaves against her arms, the wood of her spear; they all felt right. The pain from the spear wound in her leg felt real, as did her hunger and exhaustion.
The forest felt wrong though, empty and unfamiliar. She could hear or smell the small night creatures, but Char sensed no creatures larger than the three men who followed her.

The men felt wrong, too. Three men, not of The Real People, therefore enemies. They were wrapped in skins from neck to foot in spite of the summer warmth. Moonlight bounced off their short, oddly shaped spears. Their eyes were covered by masks that let them follow her even when the moon went behind a cloud.

Not a dream. Too solid. Too much pain. Real. This is the place of death. You're already dead. Why run? Why struggle? Char tried to push those thoughts away, but they grew stronger. Something else grew stronger too, a feeling. Char detected no sound or motion, but she was sure a fourth enemy lurked nearby, close enough she could smell his man scent faintly on the night breeze, yet otherwise undetectable.

Unlike the lurker, the other dream enemies walked boldly, noisily, as if the forest belonged to them so completely that nothing in it could challenge them. The way they walked angered Char but made her cautious. It implied power.

What powers did the dream enemies possess? How could they threaten her? She stopped and shut down most of her mind to concentrate on that problem. Her breathing slowed and the dream world faded to faint gray-on-gray shadows.

Dangerous how? What can they do? See in the dark? Yes, but not enough. Why no large animals? Hunted out. Even the most powerful of beasts? Yes, but that means incredible power. Where from? Spears? Can't be for throwing or would carry more than one. Rarely miss? Shape wrong. Would not fly right.

Char shifted her attention back to the forest around her. Her legs and arms felt heavy after the focus, and she took a deep breath. Her enemies stopped and one of them dabbed at his arm, then pushed his mask to the top of his head.

Char realized why her enemies stopped. She grinned. Go ahead. Find the trophy I hid in the tree above you, and know Char is a dangerous enemy. The enemies did not climb the tree. Instead, they stood under it, far beyond spear range. The moon came out and Char got a better look at them. One of them seemed bigger than the others, huge and bulky. The big enemy raised his weapon. One of the others shouted and shoved the tip of the spear up. Char thought she saw something race out of the tip of the spear, moving faster than her eyes could track it. In the distance, Char heard a sound like a spear being driven hard into a tree trunk.

In the moonlight Char gained ground on the dream enemies. She sensed another enemy in front of her when he broke a twig. Not the lurker. Clumsy like the others. Char moved at right angles to the ambush, but slowed when the moon slid back behind the clouds.

What did the enemy shout? Char replayed the sounds in her mind. "Never shoot unless you know what you're shooting." Gibberish.

The moon stayed behind the clouds, and Char had to pick her way carefully. Abruptly she heard swift-running water. It seemed to come from three sides of her. Char moved forward and saw that she stood in the bend of a river wide enough she couldn't see across it in the darkness, with the dream enemies behind her.

Alternate History: The Battle For Guam: December 1941
What actually happened: Guam was a potentially vital American owned island, with the potential to be a base to support a US rescue of the Philippines. A strong US presence there would have unlocked island chains that the Japanese counted on to the keep the US from reinforcing the Far East.

Oddly, though, there wasn't a major battle for Guam in December 1941. The US had only token forces on the island--less than five hundred men, most of them natives of the island, with no significant naval or air power.  The US basically left the island defenseless and had to take it back at a fairly high cost later in the war.

Why did that happen, and how could we get a major battle for Guam in December 1941? As part of the naval arms limitations treaties after World War I, the US gave up the right to fortify Guam or do certain types of fortifications in the Philippines. In return, the Japanese agreed to a 5-5-3 ratio in capital ship (battleships and carriers) tonnage. In other words, for every five tons of capital ship Britain or the US was allowed to build, Japan could build three.  That was actually a very good deal for Japan as the then dominant naval faction recognized. It froze a ratio that Japan had been able to reach while the other powers were preoccupied with World War I, a ratio the Japanese couldn't have sustained if Britain and the US had decided on an arms race with Japan.

The relatively rational Japanese naval leadership that ratified the post World War I treaty and its successors lost out in a brutal internal fight in the Japanese navy in the early 1930s and in 1934 the Japanese announced their intention to withdraw from the naval limitations treaties as of 1936, thus giving the require two years of notice.

The decision to withdraw from those treaties was one of the stupidest decisions that the Japanese leadership made in a decade of remarkably stupid decisions, but it happened. At that point, the US was technically free to build up bases in Guam, and the navy wanted to, but Congress balked, saying that a build-up there was unnecessarily provocative. The US was deep in isolationism and the rising Japanese militancy wasn't enough to change opinions here.  After a while, it was too late to do anything about defending Guam, because the Japanese had built up such a formidable position in the surrounding Japanese-held islands.

How do we get a battle for Guam: I've written about the idea of the US doing a hasty build-up in Guam in the summer of 1941, but that's probably not too realistic. The best opportunity might have come in the aftermath of the Panay incident in December 12, 1937, when Japanese pilots strafed, bombed and sank a clearly marked US gunboat in Chinese waters.  Let's say that the public reaction is stronger than it was historically, maybe reinforced by stories of the Rape of Nanking, which came on the heels of the Panay incident.

 The reaction is strong enough that the Roosevelt administration looks for a way to demonstrate resolve and punish the Japanese, along with distracting them from their rampage in China. Reinforcing Guam and building it up as an air and naval base is a way of doing that, though it is fraught with danger.  The Japanese will build up further in the nearby Marshall Islands, and they'll be starting from a much stronger initial base.  Guam and the nearby Japanese island bases will be like scorpions in a bottle: very close to one another and capable of inflicting a lot of damage on one another. There is a significant chance that the US will lose whatever forces they put into Guam and that the Japanese will end up using whatever air and naval bases the US builds there. In other words, there were good reasons for an isolationist US Congress to oppose any Guam buildup.

But if we're going to have a Battle for Guam, those objections would need to be overcome. So the US brings in a detachment of marines--five hundred to a thousand initially, does some improvements to the harbor, builds an airbase and stations a dozen or two aircraft there.

At that level, the base is no real threat to the Japanese, who could easily crush it. However, the potential  for future expansion into a real threat is obvious. The Japanese move more airpower and manpower into the area. The US buildup continues, with the US training and arming the locals and gradually expanding the number of marines stationed there as tensions with Japan rise along with the continued Japanese rampage in China.

The Japanese don't attack Guam at this time. They just make sure they are in a position to neutralize it if they go to war with the US. In 1938, they already have a very full plate with the ongoing war in China and with border skirmishes with the Soviets. Guam can wait.
Next installment: Guam and the lead-up to war.
If you haven't already, please stop by and nominate my alternate history novel Char in the Kindle Scout program. It's free, fast and easy. Just click on the link below and then select nominate.


Kindle Scout: Did Amazon Get Crowd-Sourcing Right?
I'm in the fourth day of Char's Kindle Scout campaign. So far, it's running at a little over twice the number of page-views that my failed previous campaign for Snapshot had at this point, which hopefully means so far, so good.

If you haven't already nominated Char, I would appreciate it if you did. The link is:


Now, some thoughts about Kindle Scout: Did Amazon finally get crowd-sourcing right with the Kindle Scout program?

The idea sounds simple enough: Let authors do a kind of dry run marketing campaign for their books, hopefully cutting through the almost impenetrable amounts of crap out there and selecting books that will sell well. It sort of works with music, with the crowd-sourcing parts of American Idol. Why shouldn't it work with books?

Unfortunately, it's not tat easy with books. The problems:

1) Most crowd-sourcing efforts have been vulnerable to cheating. They don't draw a huge number of people, so Chicago-style voting, if it can be accomplished, can distort the results tremendously. A lot veterans of now mostly defunct social network Gather's "First Chapters" contests believe that the first of those contests was distorted by at least one semi-finalist who used a large number of phony accounts to eliminate the strongest competition, leaving the publisher with mostly weaker entries by the finals.

2) Results can be skewed by a relatively small number of people who are associated with an author by some non-reading tie. Authonomy, a now defunct attempt by a major publisher at crowd-sourcing was once dominated for a few months by followers of a popular video-game commentator, for example.

3) Authors are really good at spoofing crowd-sourcing results without technically breaking the rules. That was the biggest problem at Authonomy during the time I was there. Authors mastered a kind of "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours" interaction that rewarded spending a lot of time on the site rather than good writing.

Does Kindle Scout avoid those problems? Phony accounts are probably going to be rare because people need a credit card or other form of payment, plus an address to get an Amazon account. Spoofing those safeguards probably isn't impossible, but doing it massively enough to make a difference would probably be difficult and might well lead to legal problems for whoever tried it.

Bringing in a lot of people from some non-writing connection might still be a problem under Kindle Scout, but that depends on how much computer firepower Amazon is willing to throw at the problem. They don't say a lot about what role nominations play in choosing Kindle Scout books, but they would certainly have the information available to eliminate or downgrade nominations from non-readers.

If customer X nominates a book, but has never bought anything but electronics from Amazon, is their nomination worth as much as a nomination from an avid reader who has bought numerous books in the category the novel is in? They should be worth a fraction as much, and Amazon has the information they would need to make sure they are counted for less.

Is it cost-effective for Amazon to devote those kinds of computer and programming resources to the Kindle Scout program? I don't know. I think it's a realistic enough possibility that I'm trying to target almost exclusively avid readers. That's easy enough. Most of my friends are avid readers.

As to author manipulation: Amazon is very close-mouthed about how they use nomination in the selection process. That's frustrating to authors, but makes gaming the system harder.

Kindle Scout Update 1
I'm planning to post periodic updates on my Kindle Scout campaign. Hopefully they'll be useful to any aspiring authors out there who are thinking about the Kindle Scout program. I'll start with what I know so far about the Kindle Scout program.

What I know about Kindle Scout:

  • Amazon requires a kind of 30 day marketing dry run, with a front cover, blurb and considerable effort on the author's part to show that the book has potential for sales.

  • They do select quite a few novels for the program--83 so far.

  • I've nominated several books, but none have been selected so far. That could be a matter of my tastes being a tad specialized.

  • They don't select books purely on how many 'nominations' they get, or by the number of hours the books are in the "Hot and Trending" category. I've seen posts from people who have gone through the program and been in "Hot and Trending" most of the time, but haven't been selected. Others have gotten selected while being "Hot or Trending" less than half the time. Amazon doesn't tell you how many nominations you get, but number of hours in "Hot or Trending" is probably a fair indication.

  • My one previous attempt at Kindle Scout netted 112 hours in Hot or Trending and 362 page views. Either that wasn't enough or the novel failed some kind of quality check, which I can understand. I found quite a few things wrong with it in a post-Kindle Scout checkup.

  • So far, three days into the campaign for Char, I'm at 24 hours in "Hot or Trending" and 183 page views. That's ahead of last time, but not by enough to make me feel comfortable about the campaign. Last campaign at three days in I had 22 hours in "Hot or Trending" and 84 page views.

  • If you have obsessive tendencies, running a Kindle Scout campaign for your novel will bring them out. This campaign has energized me more than anything I've done in months. I need to be very careful not to burn myself out and not to neglect other parts of my life. This is only the fourth day of the campaign, with twenty-six days left. This is marathon, not a sprint.

Experiment: Can I Write A First Person, Present Tense Story? Ice Mind
I'm normally a very traditional writer in terms of my writing style. I write in third person in the past tense. There are other ways to write, though, and it's fun to play with other styles. I actually wrote this for a friendly contest among a writing group called the wombats. One of the objects of the contest was to identify who among the group wrote each of the stories in the contest and to keep people from figuring out which story you wrote. I deliberately tried to imitate on of the other wombats and this is sort of the way she would write on an off day.

One of the perks and banes of being a real psychic is the porn.  I go to the average motel room, run my hands along a couple of inches from the walls or the bed and feel every emotion of a dozen recent or mind-blowing bedroom games.  Bad sex doesn’t leave much of a psychic imprint unless it’s violent.  Emotions usually don’t get past the skin unless they are strong, out of control.  Like the emotion of really good sex, or of rage or murder.

So I look around the room.  Body is gone.  Evidence techs are wrapping up.  Detective Ariel Carter is looking at me skeptically, her uniform gamely trying to hide a figure that I would love to see in my bed.

The hotel room walls are drywall.  Not good.  Wood or concrete hold emotions better.  At least it isn’t glass.  Glass, plastic, ceramics—forget about reading them.

Anyway, I get the usual bedroom escapades as I move around the room.  Stronger around the bed, but scattered around the room too.  Amazing what you can do on one of those little hotel desks.  I try to keep the emotions I feel off of my face and out of other parts of my body.  And abruptly I feel fear.  Terror.  Helpless rage.  “Was the victim a woman?”

Detective Carter shrugs.  “You’re the psychic.  You tell me?”

I look at her.  “Why do we have to play these games?”

“Because you’re a fraud.”

“I’m feeling terror.  I’m not sure if it’s the victim.  Feels fresh.  It’s from a man.  A powerful man.  Arrogant.  But helpless.  Maybe dying.”

That shakes her.  I see it sneak onto her face.  I say, “So that’s our victim.  Man.  In a position of power.  Physically strong but now helpless.  Knows he’s going to die.  Trying to deny it to himself.  Trying to find a way out.”  I move my hands along the wall.  Nothing more.  Down to the floor.  Pain.  Enough pain that even second hand it almost causes me to cry out.

I look up at Detective Carter.  “He was here.  Probably dying.  A lot of pain.  Maybe tortured.”

She tries not to look impressed.  “So tell me something we don’t know, like who the murderer was.”

I move around the room.  No killing rage.  Nothing along the floor except fragments of sex.  No rage in the bed.  I go over the bathroom.  Nothing there among the glass and ceramics, but I have to check.

Finally I go back to the wall where the victim thought his thoughts of fear and rage.  I go over the wall inch by inch, then try along the carpet.  Carpet is even better than wood or cement.  A flash of a girl or woman walking away.  Naked.  Seen from the floor.  Slender legs.  Butt firm.  A tattoo of a rose on one cheek.  The lower back of her head-- 

I look up.  “Possible murderess.  A woman.  Probably young.  I see her from the back.  Auburn hair cut short.  Tattoo on her butt. Don’t see her face.”

She looks .at me like she just stepped in something.  “Auburn hair, huh?  Sounds like you peeked at one of our reports.  An outdated one.”

“So there is an auburn-haired woman on the suspect list?” I ask.

“There was an hour ago.  Janet Thomas.  She’s off of the list.  She fell. Was getting a broken arm set the entire time the murder could have happened.”

“Do you have a picture?”

She shows me one.  I say, “I didn’t see the face, but she fits.”

 “And she was here.  Just not when the murder happened.”

I go back to where I picked up the image of the woman walking away.  I see a lamp near where she was standing.  Lampshades are the best—better than wood or even carpet.  I go over and pick up a faint impression of amused contempt.  “If she did it she’s cold.  Colder than anyone I’ve ever felt.”

Ariel Carter isn't your traditional beauty, though she probably was ten or fifteen years ago.  She's at least ten years older than me, and she looks like a cheerleader gone slightly but decorously to seed--blonde hair, fading slightly, that light complexion of a natural blonde showing bits of wear and tear as she approaches her fourth decade.  Her figure is still trim though, and her face still has the strong feminine lines that must have made her a beauty not long ago.

And she's less than halfway through a woman's average lifespan but the second glances from guys have faded.  She probably notices it.  It probably hurts.  Beauty fading.  Is the fading worse than never having it?  I suspect so.


Log in