Fun With Fans

You know what the best thing is about writing? Readers!

It feels great to finish a book. It feels great to sign a contract. It feels really great to sell some books and make some money. But the best thing is when somebody says, “I read your book, and I loved it!”

I’m having fun on my own blog, Marian Allen, this month, doing Story A Day in May. Every day (so far), I’ve gotten up at 6:00 — A.M., mind you — and I’ve written and posted a story by 9:00 A.M. at the latest. Very short stories, written on the fly.

Force of Habit 150-226Back when FORCE OF HABIT first came out, I held a contest for naming rights for a character in a short story I would write set on Llannonn, the planet where FORCE OF HABIT takes place. Holly Jahangiri won, and I put her in a story (“By the Book“). We both enjoyed it so much, I put her in another story (“The Pratty Who Saved Christmuss“). When I announced my participation in this May challenge, she asked if she would be in any of the stories. I put her in one on the first Sunday of May (“Culture Shock“) and the second Sunday of May (“Rustler“). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she showed up another story or two. ;)

The writer/reader relationship is seldom this close, but it really is a two-way path. We write hoping to be read. Reader feedback — especially encouraging feedback — is precious. Even if a reader doesn’t like something we’ve written, we can get over the ego bruising if we can “talk story”: discuss what didn’t work for that particular reader and why it didn’t work. It’s all part of the process.

Connection. That’s what it’s all about.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes


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More Comedy Than Science Fiction

The trouble with marketing a book that’s a mixture of genres is getting it to the attention of the people who would enjoy it.

Force of Habit 150-226My own FORCE OF HABIT, which I write about here because it’s the only book I have with Echelon Explorations, is a case in point.

Set on a planet other than Earth and on a space ship, set in the far future, filled with aliens and alien cultures, it’s definitely within the range of science fiction.

The plot involves a number of crimes, a major thread is the boots-on-the-ground police work of a cop on the planet Llannonn, and the climax is an extended courtroom scene, so it’s definitely within the range of cop/crime/mystery.

It’s goofy as hell, so it’s definitely within the range of humor.

In fact, when it was first published (Serendipity Systems, 1994), it was reviewed in Analog by Tom Easton. He said, “It’s a comedy of errors that owes a good deal to Robert Asprin, Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, and P. G. Wodehouse, although its attention to background plausibility has less in common with the writers than with the comedians.”

So what do you think? What should I call it so that the people who would like it can find it? Science fiction? Crime? Humor? I’m asking you.

FORCE OF HABIT is on Amazon Kindle.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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Why Review?

If you have any authors in your social networks, chances are you’ve seen appeals for reviews.

“Show your favorite author some love: Review a book.”

That sort of thing.

If you aren’t a writer, yourself, you may think the author just wants to enjoy some compliments, or has an inferiority complex and needs to be reassured.

You may be right, but there’s more to it than that. Reviews are good for business.

A lot of people read a book’s reviews before even sampling it, let alone buying it. They want to know what other readers thought. Even a low ranking by a thoughtful reviewer can sell a book to a browser who disagrees with the reviewer’s opinion!

There are websites and newsletters that provide notices to subscribers about available books; a lot of them require a certain number of reviews before they’ll even look at a book to consider letting their readers know it exists.

There are reviewers who won’t read a book for review unless it has a certain number of reviews already.

Review rankings are something authors can cite to persuade their social network followers to look at a book.

So please don’t think reviews don’t matter. And please don’t think your review doesn’t matter! Every time and way you can recommend a book or author you enjoy, you do a big favor for the author and for other readers who would enjoy the book or author, if only they knew what you know.

By the way, I happen to have this book with five 5-star reviews. Maybe you’d like to take a look. Maybe you’d like to buy a copy. Maybe you’d write a … you know … review. :)

Force of Habit 150-226FORCE OF HABIT available only for Kindle
This book began life as a Star Trek (the old show) fanfiction story, but it was so very silly and pushed so far out of the show’s parameters, I decided to change everything and turn it into an original novel. It’s a farce, which means that everybody runs around under various misapprehensions and no lasting harm is done to anyone. It’s a mystery without a murder set on another planet, with people from Earth being the Menace From Outer Space. In a mildly criminous, non-lethal way, of course.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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Calling All SpecFic! Calling All … What?

SpecFic, or Speculative Fiction, is a broad term encompassing fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, fairy tales, alternate history, magical realism, the paranormal — just about anything that deals with the world not as it is but as it might (possibly or impossibly) be.

Today, I’m inviting speculative fiction writers to leave BRIEF blurbs and buy or get-free link to their own specfic books or specfic books they love.

It’s my post, so I get to start. Since this is the only Echelon title I have out, this is the one I choose:

Force of Habit 150-226FORCE OF HABIT
The planet Llannonn is known for its courtesy, but when Bel Schuster goes off-limits during shore leave she uncovers the iron fist inside that velvet glove.

Gangster aliens, local law enforcement and highly placed political espionage agents all get into the act, and a tangle of misunderstanding, miscommunication and mistaken identity land Bel in court, facing what passes for a legal system on Llannonn.

Please and thank you. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.

Available from Amazon Kindle store:

And one I loved:

by Michael Williams

Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.

Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.

Amazon Kindle:

Your turn!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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What Is Cross-Genre?

If you read a lot, chances are you’ve read a cross-genre book and might not realize it.

Somewhere along the line, books got divided into kinds (genres). Somebody decided that people who liked reading a mystery wanted only mysteries and people who liked reading romances wanted only romances, and so sorting books by genre was born.

Here are a few, along with some sub-genres:

-Police Procedural

-Traditional Fantasy
-Urban Fantasy

Science Fiction
-Hard Science Fiction
-Soft Science Fiction
-Space Opera
-Military SF

-Erotic romance
-Sweet romance
-Paranormal romance
-Romantic Susense

-Wild West
-Modern West
-Western romance

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve been trained as well as the next person to go into a bookstore and look for the Mystery, Fantasy, Science Fiction, or Cooking sections, but I miss the days when I could just browse Fiction and pick up who-knows-what at random and find an unexpected treasure.

Still, as you can see from the sub-genres above (those are only a few), a lot of books that are firmly in one or another genre have elements of others. Any book that has a romantic or sexual relationship or tension in it also a romance, even if it’s mostly Science Fiction or a Western. Any book that has a puzzle or a crime in it is also a Mystery, even if it’s a Sweet Romance or a Fantasy.

My novel at Echelon, FORCE OF HABIT is another thing entirely: cross-genre. A cross-genre book is one that’s deliberately as much one thing as another; in this case, it’s Science Fiction AND it’s Mystery AND it’s Humor. Here’s what it’s about:

Force of Habit 150-226The planet Llannonn is known for its courtesy, but when rebellious space academy professor Bel Schuster goes off-limits during shore leave she uncovers the iron fist inside that velvet glove.

Gangster aliens, local law enforcement and highly placed political espionage agents all get into the act, and a tangle of misunderstanding, miscommunication and mistaken identity land Bel in court, facing what passes for a legal system on Llannonn. Please and thank you. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.

Price $2.99
(supposed to be $4.99, but Amazon hasn’t raised it as of 1/14/2013)

Buy for KINDLE.
Buy for KINDLE UK.
Buy for KINDLE Germany.

Oh, heck, it’s available for Kindle anywhere in the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed world!

Try it, buy it, read it, review it! It’s a triple-genre cross, which means you have three chances to like it, right? Of course, right! ;)

Marian AllenFantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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Why Are All Aliens Humanoid?

My mother, whose brain never rests, has often remarked on the fact that the aliens on television, movies, and most sf literature are more or less humanoid. Especially on television, aliens are liable to be, at most, bald with bits stuck on. If they’re not humanoid, they’re almost always air-breathers.

Even in Star Wars, even in the justly famous Mos Eisley Cantina scene, everybody is more or less humanoid. Jabba the Hutt is only a couple of degrees removed from Dale the Whale.

Of course, a lot of that has to do with budget. It’s cheaper to hire a human and then hire a make-up artist to stick bits on than it is to hire a special effects factory to do their thing. It has been, up to now, at any rate. Then there are the sets. And now I’ve gone WAY out of the territory of Things I Know through the land of Things I Can Guess Or Imagine and am completely lost in the vast universe of Things I Know Absolutely Nothing About.

I do know, though, that there is one writer I’ve read who made the possible variety of intergalactic intelligence and cross-species contact feel both realistic and suitably bizarre.

That writer was James White. His Sector General novels, which involve an intergalactic hospital ship, are nothing short of brilliant. Fan-freakin’-tastic.

If you haven’t read them and you love science fiction, give him a try. Two thumbs and a tentacle up.

Marian Allen

Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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It’s a Business

I think what many authors tend to either forget or not realize in the first place is that publishing is a business. With any business, there are rules, regulations, and requirements for those who want to be employed. Writers sometimes don’t do their homework. I admit, I didn’t, but in time I learned the rules, and am still learning.

When applying for a job, there are proper and improper ways to interview. A good thing is to research the company either online or talk to some of the employees before the interview. Know about the desired position as much as possible. Dig into the history of the company. At the interview how you present yourself is key. Proper dress, proper resume, intelligent, practical and acceptable answers to questions.

These same principles hold true for publishing. Before querying a publisher, check the company’s record. Find out about the authors published. Do they have multiple books or one? What’s the reputation of the publisher? When querying, follow their guidelines. If the website says email only, then don’t phone. If you’re to send the first three chapters, don’t send five. If they want the first fifty pages, don’t send the entire manuscript in fifty pages in type so small the editor needs to use a magnifying glass. Already be a presence on the Internet. Already be an author promoting your book. Don’t wait until the contract signing. Being contracted to a publisher is a job and you’re working for a company.

As with the proper presentation at an interview, your manuscript needs to be in tip top condition. This means edited to the best of your ability or to the best of the ability of someone you’ve hired. Don’t send your manuscript using both sides of the paper or on recycled paper. Format your manuscript according to the guidelines. Double spaced means double spaced. Do not use colored paper for queries or manuscripts. They will immediately be rejected. You had better understand the fundamentals of writing, which means using correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling (exceptions accepted when appropriate to the story).

Just as your ability to do a job will help get you the job, story needs to be decent for it to be accepted. Remember, this is a business deal and publishers are providing their customers with products they want. If you give them a Western when they really want vampires, then you’re out of luck. If you give them a story that doesn’t make sense, with unbelievable characters, a laughable plot, you will be rejected.

On the other side, however, I think too often writers see publishers as the overlord gatekeepers who peer down their snobbish noses and laughingly refuse entrance to those deemed unworthy. When I am turned down for a job I don’t think badly of the company or envy those lucky few who are hired for employment. When it comes to publishers, however, I sometimes envision the masses clamoring at the gates waving their manuscripts, all desperately vying for the attention of the guard whose role is played by the acquisition editor or the literary agent. When a poor soul is refused admittance he slinks away dejected with his tail between his legs, dejected and wondering, “Who does that editor think he is, rejecting me?” Part of the answer lies in the first sentence of this discussion. Publishers are businesses. They don’t have a personal grudge against a particular author (unless that person has, in the past, committed an egregious error such as throwing the manuscript at the editor under a restroom door or calling fifty times a week wondering where the contract is before the manuscript is even accepted). Nor do I think them ruling monarchs blessing the few with favors.

Publishers, like all other employers, are looking for the best person to fill their needs. Publishers need authors with a ‘sell-able’ story who will do their part. This doesn’t mean, however, that publishers don’t have their role to fill. I think publishers need to present themselves as friendly with a friendly, family type atmosphere, yet professional. The publisher’s website needs to be energetic, exciting, and enticing. It needs to be easy for people to move around and explore. Contact information and guidelines need to be accessible without having to dig through too many layers. When a new author is accepted, publishers need to be loyal and supportive. Both sides are out to succeed.

In other employment arenas, if there are problems between company and worker, there are options depending on the nature and severity of said problems. Discussions, reassignment, probation, further education or training may be warranted. In extreme cases, the worker may choose to resign or if the offense is grievous enough, then the individual may be terminated. With publishers and authors the situation is similar. Publishers may need to discuss options for future relations. Authors may feel the publisher isn’t being fair and decide to seek others.

The publishing industry, in reality, no different from any other business. The perception is different, especially from the writer’s point of view, because the writer is affected directly and it feels more personal. However, if the writer knows the craft, does a little study into the people (and the company) with whom he or she wants a relationship, then the path may not be strewn with as many obstacles.

For a few years I have attended a series of seminars at a particular conference that discussed the publishing industry. The moderator conversed with sampling of: authors, agents, editors, publishers, book distributors (i.e. Ingram), and book sellers (i.e. book stores). Everyone had an opinion on the present and future conditions in the world of books. I will admit, I came out of that seminar with a rather dim view. As an author still looking for better success, I thought I could sum up the seminar in five words. Basically, everyone said the same thing: Do your best. Good luck.

Unfortunately, part of me still feels that way, especially when I get frustrated. However, I have to remember that I’m also involved with martial arts. I attend camps and tournaments and seminars and I never come away from those with a feeling of, “Do your best and good luck.” I don’t instruct my students in this fashion, either. If I failed to win a trophy, I have to accept the responsibility. I can’t blame the tournament host or the organization. With martial arts one has to persevere, train harder, and constantly strive to do better. Only then will one be successful. I have a support network behind me in my students and instructor and the organization who will offer training opportunities. I have to have the initiative to seek them out and participate.

The same can be said about publishing. It’s not a ‘good luck’ situation; it’s about perseverance and constantly striving to succeed.

So I don’t say “Good luck,” but rather, “Keep going. Have fun. Do your best. If that best means digging in, taking hold, and learning more about how publishers operate, then do it.”

Instead of getting frustrated, think of all those authors who had dozens of rejections before they found success.

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What The Heck Does Cross-Genre Mean?

Cross-Genre is a term people in the writing/publishing biz toss around as if everybody understands what it means.

Not everybody does. Why should they? People read books. If they want to narrow it down, they read mysteries, fantasies, science fiction, romances, or some other description.

Well those descriptions — mystery, fantasy, science fiction, romance — are genres, which is French for kind (as in, “What kind of book do you like to read?”).

Books are somewhat sloppily tossed into one genre or another based on where the people who would probably buy that book would probably look for it.

Oh, did I say that out loud? I meant to say: based on setting, characters, plot, and values.

A book in which Character A falls in love with Character B, there are obstacles to their happiness together, and those obstacles are either overcome or not is a Romance.

A book in which Character A’s house is haunted by Character B and they have to deal with the afterlife and the undead is a Paranormal.

A book in which a Character A’s religious faith is challenged and that faith is vindicated is an Inspirational.

A book in which a nun who’s considering giving up the veil falls in love with a man who is the spitting image of a saint’s statue, then finds out he’s the ghost of an alien who crashed on the site of the abbey during the Ice Age, at which point she gives him up, renews her vows, and gets the Mother Superior to put his spirit to rest — Let me see…. That’s an Inspirational Paranormal Sci-Fi Romance.

And that’s cross-genre.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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Readers! YOU Control The Book Market!

Back in the BK (Before Kindle) days, the books available for you to read were there because decision-makers at publishing houses judged what books you wanted to read. Then the books were there based on what decision-makers in board rooms judged you would be willing to pay for.

Then electronic publishing and social media and blogging exploded all over the book-producing landscape and now my title is a truth: You get what you want.

But there’s a catch: You only get what you want if you express your opinion.

If you read a book and you love it or hate it or like some things about it but not other things, let people know.

If you’re on Facebook, share your opinion.

If you’re on Twitter, tweet about it.

If you’re on Google Plus, you can do anything from update your status to write an essay.

If you have a blog, write about it.

If you’re on Goodreads, Library Thing, Shelfari, or another site for readers to swap book recommendations, participate.

Leave reviews on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, anywhere that takes them.

Follow your favorite authors’ blogs or professional social media accounts.

Take your responsibility to yourself seriously, and let people know what books you like — or don’t like — and why.

I can assure you, the people who produce the books are taking you seriously. You rule! How cool is that?

Marian Allen

Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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A Fascination Of Dragons

If that isn’t the term for a group of dragons, it ought to be. Dragons are just cool, that’s all. Even fire-breathing dragons are cool.

From Beowulf to The Hobbit to Journey to the West to modern urban fantasy, dragons pop up everywhere. Even Godzilla, with his/her radioactive halitosis, is a kind of dragon.

I found an awesome website called that’s all dragons, all the time. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous site. I could wander off in there and get happily lost. :)

This past weekend, I went to an international festival and what did I buy, out of all the goods on offer? Surprisingly, not jewelry! No, I bought a dragon figurine. It looks a bit like jade, but it’s plastic. Glow-in-the-dark plastic.

New dragon joins glass dragon to form a fascination.

Tacky or cool? You be the judge.

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

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