It’s a Story, But Not *MY* Story

It's a Story, But Not *MY* StoryI’m in the process of getting ready for the Forward Motion Writer’s May Story-A-Day short story challenge. The plot bunnies and Muse have been very good to me providing me with more ideas than I think I can write in that month. So much so that I stopped looking for more, and tried to distract myself with other things, such as revision.

The next morning I realized one of the ideas kept coming to mind, but not in a good say. The more I thought of the story, as first imagined, the more I didn’t like it. It was darker and more depressing than I usually write.

Then came the realization that I was not looking forward to writing it.

That thought made me stop and look at the idea again. I loved the title and wanted to do something with it. The story was a good one, in and of itself, but it was not MY kind of story.

There is was. It would have been a fine story for someone else to write, but I was not the writer to do it. I decided to take it out of the May list of stories to write, with the plan to take the title and start over.

It took only a few minutes for the Muse and plot bunnies to come up with a replacement. I guess they were just waiting to attack. All good and well…

…Until one of the departing plot bunnies told me what the other story should have been.

Mouthy little bugger.

So, now I have more short stories to write in May than I thought, as not only do I have a corrected first story, but I also have the supposed replacement.


Can someone else please distract the plot bunnies for a while now? I’ve been nibbled raw with ideas. 😛


J.A. Marlow

It's a Story, But Not *MY* Story

The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1)

Kelsey Hale thinks she’s just a typical mixed-up teenager. Everyone feels that way, her teachers assure her. Yet, strange things happen to her, like food disappearing before she can eat it and hearing music no one else hears.

Then a giant flaming bird drops an alien at her feet. Well, good grief, how can you ignore something like that?

Abducted from Earth, the only planet she’s ever known, Kelsey finds herself thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universe. She must not only survive herself, but also find a way to rescue her father from a dangerous group with unknown motives.

In the process, she’s confronted by a hidden secret about herself which will shake the very foundation of who and what she thought she was.

And connecting it all are the mysterious Weavers.

A 97,100 word, 389 page (approximate), science fiction novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

HD 10180 – Record 9 Planets Found

I found another Muse-Inspirational:

HD 10180 - Record 9 Planets Found

The sun-like star, called HD 10180, located approximately 127 light-years away in the constellation Hydrus, is home to a record nine planets, making it the most populated system of extrasolar planets yet found…

“They are certainly not in the habitable zone and likely have no prospects for hosting life,” Tuomi told “However, one of the Neptune-sized planets in the system with an orbital period of 600 days is actually in the middle of the habitable zone, which makes it an interesting target when the better detection methods enable us to observe moons orbiting exoplanets in the future.”

(More at The Daily Galaxy)

The skies are crowded up there! So many places for fun stories. 🙂


J.A. Marlow

HD 10180 - Record 9 Planets Found
A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction 335 page (approximate) word stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”.

AmazonHD 10180 - Record 9 Planets Found | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Effective Ebook Front and Back Matter

This article is not about the story itself. It will assume you have finished the work in questions and are now making the hard decisions that come with publishing. One of the most time-consuming is putting together the front matter and the back matter of an ebook for the first time.

Yes, we can use the print books we likely have around us as a guideline, but those are print books. Ebooks are completely different animal when it comes to the format, presentation, and mode of selling. Items which may seem like a no-brainer need to be rethought.

Many ebook buyers have learned to download samples from their favorite retailer to be sure they like it enough to buy it. This is the equivalent to readers browsing through the pages of a print book in a bookstore, flipping to the start of the book, then maybe to the middle.

Only, an ebook sample is not the entire book. A reader cannot flip to various areas to see if it suits them. A typical ebook sample is the first 10-30% before the reader needs to buy the work before reading anymore. Because of this, be careful of what you put at the front of an ebook. This is valuable space, as many retailers have pre-defined sample percentages which the author or publisher cannot alter.

Make the most of this space.

To help you along, below are a few guidelines of items which one might see in the front matter or back matter of an ebook:

Title Page: Is a title page still needed in the ebook world? Doesn’t it just repeat the title and author name? Well, it does those two things, but it can also do much more. Many times it will include a curtailed copyright notice (more on this later), but there is also something else an author/publisher should consider, and that is “sample conversion.”

This is one area where ebooks really excel. Many readers are downloading samples of the work to their ereaders or ebook programs, and then going through them at their leisure. This is great for the readers, but it presents a problem. Readers are sampling so much now that they are losing track of all of them. They cannot remember what the story was about or what attracted them to a specific work by only the title or cover. How is that sampling converted into a sale?

My advice: Place a very short description on the title page. By short, I mean very short. Two paragraphs maximum, and if you can manage it, one paragraph or even one sentence. The shorter the better, otherwise you threaten to take up valuable sample space.

Dedication: In print books this is always in the front matter of the ebook. It’s a way to thank special people or for the author to make a specific declaration.

My Advice: As the sample becomes so important, it may be time to push this off into the ebook back matter. Or, another option may be to combine it with the title page.

Character Lists: Some books are so long and complicated they need a ‘cheat-sheet’ listing the various characters. Often, this will include where they are living or where they are from, or other information to help a reader remember them.

My advice: List on the Table of Contents and put it in the back matter. A reader shouldn’t need it to get started.

Images: Have a map you want to include in the ebook? As a reader, I find these fun sometimes, and give me a visual cue of where characters are moving or where events occurred. Mysteries are one genre where maps are particularly popular.

My advice: List it on the Table of Contents, and then put in the back matter of the novel. If the reader wants to see it, they can navigate to it using the (usually automatically generated) internal TOC linking.

Other Books Available: If a writer has produced more than one book, the front matter will often list several more. I love these as a reader, as I will hunt down all the other books written by a writer I like. For promotion and marketing, this can be the best way to drive backlist sales.

My advice: Keep this, but reconsider where it is located. As I mentioned before, the sample is valuable. Place it in the back matter immediately after the finish of the story. The only exception would be for a series. I’ve personally found that it works well to list other books of the series, in order, on the title page right under the title and author name.

About the Author: I love these as a reader, as well. We get to learn a little bit about the author, what their interests are, and hopefully ways to follow more of their work.

My advice: As a reader of print books, I see the “About the Author” sections most often on the back jacket of a hardback or in the back matter of a paperback. This is a good place for it. For marketing and promotion reasons, also include your webpage address and other ways readers can connect. This is also a good way to drive traffic to a newsletter.

Copyright: In print books the copyright statement usually goes in the front of the book. It’s usually written in small letter, and almost everyone skips them.

My advice: For ebooks, rethink the placement. Again, the front of an ebook is valuable for selling the ebook to samplers. If you feel uncomfortable leaving everything out, then craft a small one-paragraph copyright and place it on the title page (you can use a modified version of Smashwords’ copyright declaration) and then place the larger and expanded version in the back of the ebook. This will save front sample space as well as keep intact the full copyright page with all the information you may need to include.

Samples of Other Work: This is something that is showing up more and more often even in print books in the form of the first three to five pages of another work to be available by the same author or the imprint in the near future. It’s been used with great success, and so ebook publishers and authors have followed copied the technique.

My advice: This is a good practice with a proven track record, but there are a few things to be mindful of when it comes to ebooks.
1. Keep it short. Do not allow all the back matter to go over 15% of the total ebook. This can result in reader complaints who upon reaching 80% thought the book would go on for a while more and suddenly find the story to an end.
2. With ebooks the reader has become addicted to and expects instant gratification. If they want a book they can buy it, download it, and be reading in minutes. For this reason, think long and hard before sampling a work that is not yet available for sale. The reader might move on to a book by a different author and completely forget about yours by the time it is released.
3. For an effective sample, choose something with a similar theme or genre/subgenre. It will increase the chances the reader of the current work will be interested in and purchase the sampled work.

Last advice: Once you have made the decisions on what format you want your front matter and back matter, consider creating templates. This will make any future ebook publishing faster, less stressful, and more accurate. Why make this harder on the future-you?

Front matter and back matter of a novel (or short story) may seem like a simple thing, but as demonstrated above, the decisions you make can make a big difference. Use them wisely and you will create a better reader experience, as well as convert reader samplers into sales and generate interest in backlist.

These are important considerations for anyone in the business for the long-haul. A little time and effort now can pay off big in the long run.


J.A. Marlow

Coffee Cup Dreams New CoverCoffee Cup Dreams

She wasn’t supposed to wake up when dead…

During what should have been a simple operation, Tish Douglas died. And yet, she also awoke… in what the doctors called a ‘psi event.’

Despite having no memory of the incident, it means she’s required to go on a life-time course of debilitating drugs designed to reign in her supposedly new psi gifts. She’s left with the option of existing on Earth in a drug-haze, or leave the planet.

When an opportunity for a good paying job on a space station known as Redpoint One is offered, she jumps at the chance. Even though she doesn’t have any experience as a ‘maintenance engineer.’ Even though the station sits in the middle of nowhere, a still-operating construct of a long-gone alien species.

Between pirate attacks, intelligent repair robots, and maintenance emergencies, Tish must find a place for herself.

All complicated by a growing attraction to the one person on the station she can’t have: boss Arthur Getty.

A stand-alone 48400 word, 193 page (approximate), science fiction romance novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Amazon 47North – Pricing Analysis

“For our customers who are avid readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, we’re happy to introduce 47North, the latest imprint from Amazon Publishing. 47North offers a wide array of new novels and cult favorites, from urban fantasies to space operas, alternate histories to gothic and supernatural horror.”

As I write science fiction, this is the area of the 47North catalogue I will focus in on. They are still rolling out the pre-orders, so the science fiction portion is a small percentage of the overall count. (8 books out of 35)

Even if we have only 8 books, here is the breakdown in book pricing:

$9.99 List discounted to $7.99

$9.99 List discounted to $3.99

$9.99 List discounted to $2.99

Yes, all of the above are ebooks with a list price of $9.99. All of them are discounted, with some more than others. 47North is one of Amazon’s newer imprints, and this shows in the pricing and discounts. Amazon is using pricing to help get a foothold. All but 2 of the books are pre-order and not yet shipping.

Interesting numbers on the science fiction side, but what about if we include all of the 47North genres, bringing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror? Here are the ebook numbers:

34 books total (One .99 ebook tossed out of the analysis as it appears to be the Indie novella version)

$9.99 List discounted to $7.99

$9.99 List discounted to $6.88

$9.99 List discounted to $6.39

$9.99 List discounted to $4.99 (One $5 ebook is included in this)

$9.99 List discounted to $3.99

$9.99 List discounted to $2.99

$2.99 List with no discount

$1.99 List with no discount

Again, the list price on 21 ebooks out of 34 as $9.99 is striking. All of these are novels, and all of them have the $9.99 list price, even if they are all discounted at the present time to $7.99-2.99.

Looking at the above, it appears as if the $2.99 price is edging in on the $7.99 price, doesn’t it? Only, on closer inspection it does not.

See, all the ebooks priced strictly $2.99 without discounting are novellas between 63 and 125 pages. The only novel among the $2.99 ebooks is the one with a list price of $9.99 and discounted to $2.99. The latter is mostly likely because of what I mentioned before: Amazon is positioning the line to gain readers.

Looking closer revealed a few other key things.

The novellas are not in print. Only 3 novellas together in a collection are in print, and the collections range from a list price of $9.99 and $7.99, discounted to $6.88 to $5. Meanwhile, all the novels are slated for both ebook and print, with the books having an across-the-board list price of $14.95, which, of course, are deeply discounted (but with print, Amazon is known for this).

As Amazon starts to sell the imprint catalogue and more books are put out, the pricing structure could change. The above is only what Amazon is starting out with, but considering the information they have on the back-end, it does provide a solid basis of where they believe the best pricing points are for all three of these genres.

(One caveat on the above findings is that 47North is a new imprint. It is still finding its legs. I’ll do another analysis in about 6 months to see how it is shaping up. I’m sure Amazon will be looking at its price structure a lot more often than that. Heh.)

In fact, studying the page breakdown of those books that listed page numbers (17 ebooks with listed page numbers), here are the findings:

Novels of 275 pages or more

Novellas of 63-125 pages

Looking at list prices, here is what Amazon is doing for list price in these genres for specific lengths:



Interesting list prices, aren’t they? Yes, they are all discounted to $7.99 and below, but I do find it interesting. It tells me Amazon has found in its database that these are the target prices it believes these books should sell at. I, as an Indie and small press, am paying attention.

Especially after the Romance Writers of America “Readership Stats” survey, which came up with the following little tidbits of pricing information. Please note that each genre has a different audience and reader expectations when it comes to pricing:

Romance E-book Pricing
From the data in the survey, PubTrack was able to use a methodology known as the van Westendorp pricing model to establish a bottom price (floor), a top price (ceiling), and a target price for the typical romance e-book. In the survey, they offered two scenarios: the first was assuming that a $9 mass-market paperback was available as well as the digital format; while the second scenario assumed that the e-book was the only available option. The results were as follows:

Too expensive
$10.90 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$11.73 (Only e-book is available)

High price, but still reasonable
$8.33 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$8.57 (Only e-book is available)

Fairest price
$5.90 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$6.13 (Only e-book is available)

Floor price (would question quality)
$2.55 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$2.66 (Only e-book is available)

Dean Wesley Smith also had a pricing blog post (The New World of Publishing: Pricing Indie Books…Some 2012 Thoughts) not long ago, detailing his new pricing tier. It makes for interesting reading, as do the comments section where there are other great observations and experience details on the subject.

Time to rethink the pricing, don’t you think? The discounted prices of Amazon’s 47North line come in rather close to the RWA survey.  Sure, bargain-basement pricing has worked for some, but for many others it is not working like it once did. We, as writers, think different than readers. Most who buy our work are not writers. It’s readers who are our ultimate customers and buyers.

Think long and hard over the $.99 and $2.99 price points unless it is a part of focused and well-planned promotion or marketing blitz. Notice Amazon still has a higher list price on the novels. There is a reason for that. They have a higher regular place and the deep discounts may not last long.

I know I’m going to get push-back on this post and the couple paragraphs above, along with several people talking about “but I have no name, I must price low.” Go hence forth to Kris Kathryn Rusch’s latest article “Audience” and see her thoughts about the matter. Oh, and also New York Times bestselling author Tracy Hickman.  Because you are ‘not known’ is not a valid argument. It is insecurities (Oh boy, watch the comment section now…).

The industry is in flux. There’s no doubt about that. It’s important to keep an eye on trends, to continually educate yourself, and try to do better not only in the business, but also with the craft. Complacency or gut feelings can be dangerous to longevity.

Write good books. Present them well with a good cover, title, and blurb. To add to the mix, we now have new information coming in concerning pricing points. Do your own research for your own genre or sub-genre. Pay attention to all of it.

And then, based on knowledge and not insecurities and emotion, make wise decisions.


J.A. Marlow

Amazon 47North - Pricing Analysis
A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction 83600, 335 page (approximate) word stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”.

AmazonAmazon 47North - Pricing Analysis | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

New Release – “The Great Libraries”

A Gateway Roadhouse StoryI don’t know how I forgot about this, but apparently I did…

I’m pleased to announce a new release in the “Gateway Roadhouse” series. The adventures of the people, and aliens, surrounding the Roadhouse return in this sequel to “Dark Circus.”

A race against the flames…

Emmie Kirkwood is delighted when the Gateway Roadhouse insists she have a day off. Finding herself in ancient Egypt, she can think of only one thing: spending her precious day off at the most fabled library in the ancient world: The Alexandria Library.

She didn’t expect to also arrive the day of an equally fabled fire…

The Great Libraries” is available now at these retailers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Dark Circus:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords


J.A. Marlow