April 19, 2012 — 2,056 words
By Letitia Coyne
In 1975, a little known singer called John Paul Young released his second single, ‘Yesterday’s Hero’ and was catapulted to [local] stardom. Ironically, the song itself was about the fleeting nature of fame. JPY was introduced on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s iconic TV series, Countdown; he was Australia’s first ‘created’ pop star.
The show’s producer, Michael Shrimpton, and talent co ordinator, Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum, arranged for girls to mob JPY’s car on camera and to pull him from the stage during performances. He went on to have a few more hits with famously interchangeable lyrics on the same riff.
Now, as the fever builds worldwide for the latest synthetic boy band, I am reminded of JPY in reports of empty seats at ‘sold out’ concerts that leave weeping tweens in the streets outside the venues. We’ve seen it all before. The MO of The Beatles was dissected and regurgitated for The Monkees, The Bay City Rollers, New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, A-ha, Bros, Big Fun, Brother Beyond, Take That, Boyzone, MN8, 911, Damage, East 17, Five, Another Level, Point Break, Westlife, No Mercy, LFO, O-Town, US5, All 4 One, 98 Degrees, Hanson, Jonas Brothers, Dream Street, A1, Blue, Busted, McFly, O-Zone, Overground, Tokio Hotel, EXILE, and Super Junior.
It doesn’t matter how many times they do it; we buy it all again and again.
It isn’t hard to fabricate mass hysteria. Advertisers know the psychology of group manipulation backwards. There are a few very basic principals which can be used on the great unwashed over and over again without being questioned. They begin with the simple creed – ‘Act as if ….’
Why does it surprise us then, when we see the same thing happen with books?
Apologies here to Stephenie Meyer who has become, among other things, a byword for the awful-made-megastar. Once again, it is too easy to use The Twilight Saga to illustrate a point. I first heard of Twilight in early 2006, in a raving blog on the website of a small Romance publisher who prided themselves on only featuring authors with ‘the most dazzling talent’.
They weren’t alone in their rave. From Wikipedia:
Initial reviews for Twilight were mostly positive, with Publishers Weekly called Meyer one of the most "promising new authors of 2005". The Times praised the book for capturing "perfectly the teenage feeling of sexual tension and alienation", and Amazon.com hailed the book as "[d]eeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful".
Hillias J. Martin of School Library Journal stated, "Realistic, subtle, succinct, and easy to follow, Twilight will have readers dying to sink their teeth into it", and Norah Piehl of TeenReads wrote, "Twilight is a gripping blend of romance and horror". Publishers Weekly's starred review described Bella's "infatuation with outsider Edward", their risky relationship, and "Edward's inner struggle" as a metaphor for sexual frustration accompanying adolescence.
Booklist wrote, "There are some flaws here–a plot that could have been tightened, an over reliance on adjectives and adverbs to bolster dialogue–but this dark romance seeps into the soul." Christopher Middleton of The Daily Telegraph called the book a "high school drama with a bloody twist ... no secret, of course, at whom this book is aimed, and no doubt, either, that it has hit its mark.
Jennifer Hawes of The Post and Courier said, "Twilight, the first book in Stephenie Meyer's series, gripped me so fiercely that I called the nearest teenager I know and begged for her copy after I misplaced my own." Roberta Goli of Suite101.com gave the novel a positive review, saying that while "the first half of the novel lacks action", the writing is "fluid" and the story "interesting". She also praised the depth of emotion shown between the main characters for pinpointing "the angst of teenage love."
Kirkus gave a more mixed review, noting that, "[Twilight] is far from perfect: Edward's portrayal as monstrous tragic hero is overly Byronic, and Bella's appeal is based on magic rather than character. Nonetheless, the portrayal of dangerous lovers hits the spot; fans of dark romance will find it hard to resist."
After reading this about Meyer’s book, I decided it had to be read. However, on the ground, among real people, I heard readers and reviewers call Twilight the worst book ever written and utterly unreadable. [I’ve read worse, but ….] But they weren’t reviewers anyone got to hear. By the time the NYT reviewer drew attention to the fact that:
“…the book suffers at times from overearnest, amateurish writing. A little more "showing" and a lot less "telling" might have been a good thing, especially some pruning to eliminate the constant references to Edward's shattering beauty and Bella's undying love." Although the Daily Telegraph later listed Twilight at number 32 on its list of "100 books that defined the noughties", it said that the novel was "Astonishing, mainly for the ineptitude of [Meyer's] prose". Elizabeth Hand said in a review for the Washington Post, "Meyer's prose seldom rises above the serviceable, and the plotting is leaden".”
- Twilight had already sold 700 000 copies. And now that it is done, and the last movie has been released, don’t be surprised to find you never hear of it again except in fanfic.
When The Hunger Games hype began, my own son was among the many who instantly said, “It’s Battle Royale.” [ 1999 novel by Koushun Takami] But by that time, all those same big end reviewers listed there in the Twilight excerpt had already given a thorough thumbs up to the book and it had become a phenomenon.
I’m not suggesting books are created in the same way as boy bands, but the hype that decides who wins and who loses in the popularity stakes certainly is. No one should imagine for a moment that Twilight or The Hunger Games are the best books of the decade. What they are, are the books whose critical acclaim was positive at the crucial point of public uptake, and whose faults went conspicuously unnoticed until well after their success was assured.
Let me run you through some of the principals of the “Act as if ….” creed that assures that success.
1. Every boy band has a ‘just like you’ - they have a cute boy, a bad boy, a cool boy, an ethnic boy, a slightly-less-attractive-and-therefore-more-pullable boy. Susan Boyle also embodied the ‘every woman’ dream. Likewise, much more is made of the 'everyday' personal history of authors’ like JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Amanda Hocking than of Suzanne Collins or Joe Konrath, who had writing success before their big ones. So, one invaluable point in acting as if, is acting as if the author is just like the reader – as if the reader is sharing their success. We love to feel close to successful people and that is marketed to the hilt.
2. Then there is a favorite of mine – people love a crowd. The bigger the crowd, the more people you’ll see there. Acting as if EVERONE loves a book makes us want to belong to the group that loves that book. People always want to belong, except those who obstinately want to belong to the group who are known to never want to belong to a group. Consensus, real or imagined – or marketed – is a strong force for success. We don’t automatically question consensus. We are conformists by nature.
3. ‘9 out of 10 dentists recommended this toothpaste!’ Which dentists? Where? When were they asked? Authority – act as if someone with the authority to know said the product was the best. Reviewers, more especially a select group of reviewers, make or break books in the modern publishing world. The right review guarantees success in the same way that being ignored by the right people will [almost] guarantee failure. We want to be told what to think and what to believe, and all the while we choose to think we have free choice.
4. And lastly, although it seems ridiculous in some examples, the threat of scarcity is a driving force in marketing success. Act as if the reader will miss out. No one imagined, I’m sure, Apple would not supply enough of their new iPads for everyone to have a nice new gadget, but lining up to be the first has become an obsession with each update. Similarly, parents camped out with their children to be first to hold each new Harry Potter. How would poor Tarquin cope if he was the only child alive not to have his own copy of the Half Blood Prince?
Lesser mortals do market their books with ‘on sale – one week only!’ with the same intention, but it is only with the power of seriously big money that threats like that have an impact in the hundreds of thousands. For today’s boy band, selling only 4/5 of the seats for a Melbourne concert and leaving the little ones heartbroken on the streets outside pays off. Next time, and at the next venue, the little girls will pester their mother to buy the tickets sooner and at any price. Tweenage heartbreak is hard to bear.
With online fiction, there are no authoritative reviewers – yet. The marketing monster that is the Big Six has not been able to breach the wall of anarchy – yet. And there are other players now, with Amazon and Apple shouldering in, and allegations of price fixing and collusion and market monopoly. It is quite likely, as is often snarked by mainstream book reviewers, that some five star reviews of independent books are arranged, but remember, so are the reviews you will choose to read in the paperback wars.
Why not take a chance and read work that is available independently, in serial or ebook, and be brave enough to judge for yourself whether you like a book or an author. Free choices not consciously made are rarely as free as they seem.
For some more interesting thoughts on persuasion check out : Robert B Cialdini, PhD – Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion.
April 19, 2012 — 306 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly and Haglyn gathered up the plastic beads the thief had abandoned and dumped them into the water bottle.
"Should we call Overard and let him know what happened?" said Milly.
"Nah," said Haglyn. "He's probably got his hands full taking care of Bolter."
"Okay." They headed back to the parts shop. Upon entering, Milly strode up to the counter and plunked down the bottle of beads. "One Gyrian-fitted faster-than-light engine, please."
The cashier's eyes nearly popped out of his skull. He ogled the beads. "These are..." He reached under the counter and thumbed a button.
"What was that?" said Haglyn.
"Um," said the cashier, "that calls one of our, er, mechanics... Yeah. You said Gyrian fit, right? What's the, er, connector type?"
"I'm not sure," said Milly. "I'll call the ship and find out."
"Call from here!" said the cashier. "No need to go anywhere!"
"We're not going anywhere," said Milly. "Not without that engine." She stepped away from the counter and dialled Overard.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Can you check the connector type on the Pelican's engine mount?"
"Sure. Showing some plastic worked, then?"
"Yep," said Milly. "Though, actually..." She related the experience with the thief and the beads.
"These beads..." said Overard. "You say they're round and red, and really hard?"
"Then you need to get back here right away."
"Those beads aren't plastic. Actually, they're very dangerous! You could get arrested just for carrying them!"
"What!? Oh no... The cashier hit a silent alarm, too!" Milly hung up. "Haglyn," she hissed, "we have to go!" She headed straight for the door
"Wait!" said Haglyn. She zipped her GyroCart over to the counter and grabbed the bottle of beads.
"Hey!" yelled the cashier. "Stop! Don't let them get away!"
April 18, 2012 — 481 words
By A.M. Harte
Announcing Our Latest Release: Freedom Beer by Greg X Graves
Apparently someone once told MCM that the words "free" and "beer" should never be together on a poster. It was dangerous. Bad marketing. Sheer lunacy.
Of course, they didn't realise that they were speaking to the world's most lunatic individual. Seriously. MCM is so lunatic he makes the moon look like a fiery ball of sunshine.
So he cackled evilly and made the image on the right (minus Greg's name). Then he sent me an email, saying: "LOOK! I put the words 'free' and 'beer' on the same poster and they can't do anything about it, muahahaha!"
Bless, I thought. Doesn't he get his kicks out of the small things in life? I chuckled and deleted the email, prepared to let this incident slip by unnoticed.
MCM had other plans.
"Ooooh!" he thought, disappointed by my lack of interest. "What if this was a book?!"
But MCM, who hasn't written a book in eons, wasn't up to the challenge. Yet who else could possibly have the guts to take on this daunting project? Who else was almost as insane as MCM? Really, there was only one possible candidate.
MCM's next email, image attached, was sly: "Greg. You should write this."
I firmly believe it was the 'should' that trapped Greg X Graves into taking on the challenge of writing Freedom Beer. He would have baulked at a direct order. Turned his nose up at a pleading request. But this--a gentle, unavoidable suggestion?
Hook, line, sinker.
So that is how Greg ended up writing Freedom Beer, a novel about the Rocky Balboa-like protagonist Hank Rockjaw, who is determined to protect his brewery at any costs from an anonymous villain trying to steal his recipes.
And, yes, he even managed to get a jet fighter plane and an explosion into the novel.
Greg is that good.
But don't listen to me. Take it from review site Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile, who described Greg as "nothing less than confusing and brilliant at the same time". Or from In Which Ems Reviews Books, who said: "When your family comes to investigate the source of your raucous laughter, you know it's good stuff."
So what are you waiting for? Go check out Freedom Beer right now.
[Disclaimer: This entire post may or may not be fiction. I'll leave it up to you to decide.]
April 18, 2012 — 270 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
While Milly kept the blaster trained on the sniffling thief, Haglyn rolled her GyroCart a few feet away and began gathering small pebbles and bits of gravel off the pavement.
"Haglyn," said Milly, "what are you doing?"
"Oh," said Haglyn, pretending to hide a conspiratorial wink, "I'm collecting babies—er, I mean, pebbles."
Milly tilted her head to the side. "Did you hit your head?"
"Nope," said Haglyn, dumping a handful of pebbles into her lap. "Actually, I feel better than I have in a long time! These pebbles... They're so pretty, and, uh, hard, and... they smell like... um... minerals."
Milly was just about to tell Haglyn to stop acting so crazy when she noticed that the thief had stopped crying. Instead, the woman was staring intently at Haglyn, watching every movement of her hand, tracking the path of each and every pebble with her eyes.
Haglyn took a few pebbles and rubbed them gently on her cheek. "Oh, my pretty babies," she crooned, peeking at the thief out of the corner of her eye.
It was just the right finishing touch. The thief scrambled to her feet, ignoring Milly and the blaster completely, and sprang on Haglyn. She frantically scooped the pebbles out of Haglyn's lap, then fled out of the alley at top speed without looking back.
They let her go.
"Huh," said Milly. "You're a genius. A weird, demented, and perhaps somewhat cruel genius."
"It's my blessing and my curse," grinned Haglyn. "Help me pick up these beads. And chuck that blaster in a dumpster or something. It'll just get us in more trouble."
April 17, 2012 — 84 words
We mentioned MERGE over the weekend, and a hearty congrats to the lucky sleuth who found the landing page first. Your Amazon gift card is on the way, in that virtual sorta way.
For the rest of you: get in on the action by visiting the MERGE teaser page. It'll be updating soon with all kinds of cool stuff, so GO THERE NOW!
I mean, if you don't WANT a new iPad, I guess you could skip it...
April 17, 2012 — 536 words
By Guest Author
Last October, Indie Author Stephen Hise launched a new website called Indies Unlimited. The goal of the site is to celebrate, educate, and promote independent authors.
Hise wanted to provide a platform for independent authors to share and exchange ideas, knowledge, expertise and frustrations; and, for readers and reviewers to become exposed to the amazing depth and array of talent in the indie community. “I started Indies Unlimited to showcase the amazing amount of talent in the indie author community. I hope to connect authors with each other and with readers as well,” he explains.
It was an amazing undertaking for one person, yet Hise managed to produce a steady stream of content including interviews, articles, links, video book trailers, contests, reviews, industry news and recommendations.
Today, Indies Unlimited has a staff consisting of multi-national, best-selling and ground-breaking writers able to provide guidance and input to assist less-experienced authors. Hise says, “I have recruited authors and industry experts from different areas of the publishing field to provide insight, expertise, and diverse perspectives on the many facets of writing.” Some of that knowledge is shared every Tuesday with a tutorial on a different subject from back-up tools to building your own bookstore to customizing your Facebook URL and more.
Readers from all over the world have already found their way to Indies Unlimited, where they can sample excerpts of Indie Authors’ books for free, and even engage an author directly in questions and answers through the comments. The “Freebie Friday” feature showcases a large number of free eBooks each week, and draws readers, reviewers and others who enjoy the convenience and variety of free eBooks they find on the site.
“Indies Unlimited offers so much to so many,” says multi-published and award-winning author K.S. Brooks, who acts as the site’s Co-Administrator. “The sharp-witted, fresh content is truly what sets Indies Unlimited apart. It’s always good to be able to laugh when you’re involved in such a competitive industry.”
To learn more about Indies Unlimited, their video can be viewed at http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/02/05/the-indies-unlimited-story/
Authors who’d like to participate are able to submit queries via www.IndiesUnlimited.com/submissions.
Stephen Hise is the Founder and Co-Administrator of Indies Unlimited and author of the novels Upgrade and Bad Book. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his website: http://stephenhise.com/
April 17, 2012 — 295 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tears streamed down the thief's cheeks as she sat amidst all her scattered beads. "Babies," she sniffled. "My pretty babies..."
Haglyn rolled her GyroCart away from the wall it had careened into and rubbed her arm gingerly. She plucked a bead off the ground and rolled it in her fingers. "Guess we weren't the first victims."
"I almost feel bad for her," said Milly, lowering the blaster. "All this crying about her babies... Maybe this is the only way she can feed her family. Maybe she needs help."
"According to Overard, all this plastic is worth a lot of money," said Haglyn, "way more than it would cost to pay for food and shelter. Here: feel how dense they are." Haglyn tossed the bead to Milly.
The thief looked up and saw Milly catch the bead. "No!" she shrieked. "Don't hurt my baby!" She started to scramble to her feet, but Milly raised the blaster again. She froze, lips quivering.
Milly frowned and gestured to the scattered beads. "Are these your babies?"
"Precious babies," mumbled the woman. "My pretty babies."
"She's a wacko," said Haglyn. She leaned down to retrieve the pens and sunglasses that the woman had been trying to steal. "I wonder if she was going to turn this stuff into more beads somehow."
The woman stared longingly at the objects in Haglyn's hand. "More beautiful babies..."
"I don't think she even knows this stuff's worth anything," said Haglyn. "We could really use these beads to get the Pelican fixed up."
"Even if she is crazy, I'd feel bad just taking them from her," said Milly.
"Hmm." Haglyn scanned the alleyway. "I've got an idea that might make you feel better about it."
April 15, 2012 — 275 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly skidded to a stop. Haglyn was sitting in her GyroCart, hands held up over her head, trying not to provoke an attack from the thief, who was clutching her blaster in trembling hands. She clearly hadn't anticipated being backed into a corner like this. The thief swept the blaster back and forth, as if unsure which of Milly and Haglyn posed the greater threat.
"Take it easy," growled Haglyn. "Give us our plastic back, and you can go."
"Nuh uh!" said the thief, her voice shaky. "Mine now, belongs to me... Gotta take care of my children. Gotta feed 'em, gotta keep 'em warm and dry. You can't take my babies away from me!"
Milly stepped closer. "We're not trying to—"
"DON'T TAKE MY BABIES!" howled the thief. She jabbed the blaster towards Milly.
Milly's self-preservation reflexes kicked in, and she dove forward behind the nearest cover, which happened to be Haglyn's GyroCart. She stumbled and ran into the back of the cart, causing it to tilt forward, which engaged its engine, which made it shoot quickly forward, startling the thief and bowling her over. The woman hit the wall and dropped the blaster, and her bulky jacket flew open. A shower of plastic beads poured out of the pockets onto the ground.
Milly was the first to recover. She reached down and grabbed the blaster.
The thief sat up dizzily, holding her head, and moaned. When she saw Milly glaring at her from behind the blaster, and the scattered beads all around her, she wrapped her arms around herself and began to cry. "My babies!" she sobbed. "Don't hurt my babies..."
April 14, 2012 — 107 words
Okay, ladies and gents, it's mystery time again! We haven't done this in a while, so I'll make it easy, to get y'all started...
1889 is launching a new series in May.
The series is called MERGE.
We have a secret landing page for the project, with a sign-up form.
I won't tell you where the landing page is.
You have to figure that out for yourself.
The first person to sign up will receive a $10 Amazon or iTunes gift card.
Further instructions will follow.
P.S.: You may want to start using the hashtag #merge1889 now. It may come in handy.
April 13, 2012 — 1,205 words
The afternoon sun was beating down through the the sunroof of Kristen’s Jeep. The suburban streets were quiet, and it felt like they were the only people in the world. Ricky was thankful they weren’t, though. Kira, the girl he loved, was waiting for them at Lake Castaic along with Kristen’s date, Dan.
“You are insane, Kris,” Ricky said, forcing the words through his French-Canadian accent. “I was going to go anyway, you didn’t needs to bring a gun.”
“Oh, please, that rifle’s so old, I doubt it would even fire if it were loaded,” Kristen replied, barely hiding the contempt in her voice. “But, Kira made it sound like you didn’t want to go, so I wanted to make sure she didn’t go through the trouble of setting up everything about this date for nothing. Honestly, sometimes I wonder why she likes you so much.”
He glared at her then, taking loud, deep breaths as his short temper got the better of him. Hitting the car door in frustration, he shouted, “Damn it, she loves me, Kris! And I love her! Why can’t you accept zat?”
The car came to a sudden stop, the girl driving turning to face Ricky eye-to-eye. She had an anger of her own, but it was much better controlled. What she said was as calm as her gray eyes, though no less forceful. “Because I see what you do to her. I’m her roommate and her best friend, so I’m the one she comes to when she’s upset because you’ve had a big fight.” The girl sighed, rubbing her temples. She loathed what she was about to say, but this was her best friend’s unofficial boyfriend. “Yes, she has a lot of fun with you, might even be attracted to you, and I can’t stop that. If you do anything to really hurt her, though, I’ll...”
Ricky turned away before she finished, scoffing. This was why he hadn’t wanted to go on a double date. Having to be with Kristen ruined the whole thing. When Kira had first asked him to go out, he was excited at the prospect of spending some time alone with her. Then she had mentioned it was a double date with Kristen and Dan, causing his excitement to wither. These were people they hung out with all the time, so there wouldn’t be anything special about tonight.
The girl thought about telling Ricky off for his behavior some more, but she decided it wasn’t worth it and continued driving. The rest of the trip was even quieter than it had started out, until they finally pulled into the parking lot for the campgrounds.
“Don’t get out yet,” she said, reaching around into the back while Ricky waited impatiently. Kristen grabbed a bouquet of white tulips off the floor behind her seat, which she had picked from around the neighborhood. She knew it would melt Kira’s heart to get them, and as much as she hated helping Ricky, she wanted to see her friend happy. “Here, give her these.”
The young man just pushed them away, rolling his eyes. “I don’t need your ‘elp. I got Kira somezing much better zan flowers.” He patted his pocket, before hurrying out of the car, leaving a frustrated Kristen to follow.
After a short walk, they arrived at the campsite. The sun reflected off the lake, causing it to sparkle. On the picnic table there was a whole meal that Kira had cooked herself, with Kristen’s assistance. She had insisted on doing everything herself to make this date go as well as possible, part of the reason Kristen was so worried about Ricky messing it up. There was also a telescope, as well as a large portable screen and a projector, activities for when the sun set.
Ricky wasn’t really paying attention to any of that, though. The first thing he noticed was Kira. He had never seen her wear a dress before, but she looked amazing in the icy-blue gown she had picked out. It went well with her blonde hair, though he usually didn’t like dyed hair, because it reminded him how some people could change what they didn’t like about themselves, but he couldn’t change how short he was. With the four of them gathered together, he was clearly the shortest despite being the oldest there. Luckily, though, Kira wasn’t more than an inch or two taller. As he approached her, he pulled out his gift: a matching set of bracelets, both engraved with the word “Thank” on the underside.
“Ricky, in English, it’s ‘thanks,’ not ‘thank,’” Kristen tried to correct.
Kira shook her head, though, smiling at Ricky. “That’s the point, Kristen. It’s how he used to say it when we first met. Thank to you too, Ricky.” She gave him a loose hug before slipping the bracelet on. “Now, let’s get to the food before anything else does.”
Dinner was fairly pleasant, much to the surprise of many of the people there. There was some awkward conversation, but the rest was the usual stuff friends would talk about. Ricky thought he was doing quite well at acting friendly consider how much he hadn’t wanted to be there. Just as dinner was ending and he was starting to get comfortable, Kira pulled him aside, wanting to talk to him alone. He went reluctantly, not sure what was so important that he had to delay his dessert. She took him a little ways from the picnic table, where the telescope had been set up on a large blanket.
“Alright, Kira, what is it?” Ricky asked, looking through the telescope.
The girl looked down, playing with her hands nervously. She hadn’t been entirely sure what she was thinking when she brought him here, just that she needed a chance to be alone with him. “I just… we’ve been friends for a while now, and…. Well, I’m not sure h-how I really feel about you. I’ve never even gone on a date before tonight, so I’m not sure if what I feel is what I’m supposed to feel.”
Ricky stared at her. Didn’t she love him as much as he loved her? Sure, she had never said it, but he had always known it. Or thought he did. Before he could say anything, though, Kira was right in front of him, her lips touching his. It was inexperienced, and over before Ricky knew what was going on. Kira got up quickly, face red as she ran back to help Kristen with the dishes.
The young man just stayed there, stunned, but also upset. She had run away before he had a chance to kiss back, to really enjoy it. For being so nice most of the time, he thought, she sure could be selfish.
* * *
Jeremy Quinn is a hobby writer who started with writing FanFiction. Recently, he's been trying to do more original fiction, but hasn't yet found his niche.