Thursday, September 26, 2013

Know Your Hunt to Read Authors: Eric J. Gates


I have to give it to our authors: they're a competitive lot. After the lovely Stacy Eaton dropped bya few weeks back to discuss her at-times harrowing day job as a police investigator (and issued a "no comment" when asked if she was, in fact, a masked vigilante by night...or not, since I didn't ask her, but maybe she'll be kind enough to drop by again so that I can ask her), I received a mysterious email from an even more enigmatic author on the site: one Eric J. Gates.

Forgive me for wanting this guy's autograph; as you'll soon see, Eric is a veritable James Bond of the literary world. I'm not even kidding; we're talking legit super-spy stuff here--very cool!

You can check out Eric's books on Hunt to Read here:

Leaving Shadows

the CULL

Full Disclosure

2012


I recently (somehow) caught up with Eric to discuss crypto/cyberwarfare, using his hands as deadly weapons, and Eric's excellent military thrillers (now with a hint of vampire!). Enjoy!


Thanks for joining us, Eric! Honestly, given your background, I don't know where to begin. Let's start with a seemingly innocuous question: I understand you have a background in intelligence. How did that come about? They don't just throw a bag over your head and cart you off in a nondescript windowless van, do they?

Sorry, D.J., the windowless van’s been booked out by a colleague today. Maybe next time. My ‘intelligence’ work was related to Infowar projects (called Cyberwarfare these days) and I collaborated with several intelligence agencies, military units and even big business concerns in this respect. Exactly what I did and when, however…

What agencies and/or branches of the military have you worked with? If the answer is "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you," please, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT TELL ME!


Don’t worry, I never give any advanced warning; only happens in bad novels. That’s bad tactics. Sure you really want to know?

Um...when you put it that way...

[Swallows heavily]

[Hand shakes ferociously as D.J. takes a swig of whiskey]

[Smiles nervously] Any interesting stories you could share with us from your time in the intelligence business?


Maybe one. But all names are obliterated to protect the guilty and it’s business-related, not spy stuff, okay. Once upon a time there was a ‘company’ that needed to have its data encrypted to be sent abroad for processing. Their license to operate in that country was at stake so the crypto had to be approved by a third party – that’s where I came into it. After some stuff straight from a Bond movie, involving threats, hidden microphone, stolen briefcases, fast car rides through crowded cities and such, I finally got my hands on the source code for the computer program, commissioned from another company, which was supposed to do the encrypting. They had taken 3 years and many millions to come up with this. I quickly realized it was the same technique used by the Romans to cypher their secret messages, just dandified into binary code (think Captain Crunch Decoder Ring, no less). In true Agatha Christie fashion, we put all parties in a closed room with a sample of previously unseen encrypted text. It took me ten minutes using a notepad and pencil to crack it. It was a paragraph from ‘Alice in Wonderland’. There were many ‘unhappy’ faces around the table that day. Can’t say any more about what happened after that though…

That's just flat-out awesome--I've wasted my life! Aside from doing some old-fashioned code breaking, I understand you're quite the accomplished cyberwarfare instructor. I can't imagine you get those kind of credentials from a weekend online course at the University of Phoenix; what led you down that particular path, and what was it like?


How do you know about the weekend online course…?

[Redacted as D.J. may or may not have wet pants]

After scoring 100% on a logic-aptitude test, I soon found myself developing Operating System code for cutting edge supercomputers and then specialized in information technology security. From there it was a hop, skip and a hack to cyberwarfare (called Infowar back in the day) and the world of spooks and such.

As if that wasn't enough, you're also a virtuoso martial artist with...

[Checks sheet]

[Spits out drink]

Fourteen black belts!? I could do an entire interview on this alone, but I'll limit it to three shorter questions: (1) How did you get into martial arts? (2) Which black belt was the toughest to get/are you most proud of? (3) Which martial art or activity is the most fun for you?


Okay, the short version: I told a lie to protect myself at school, claiming I knew Karate. That lie came back to bite me a few years later, so I made it into a truth and found I had a certain ability to pick up fighting systems. I’ve studied 26 in all over the years, some very old yet still very useful stuff that’s helped me stay in one piece on more than one occasion. All had their own particular challenges; perhaps the ones using so-called vital points were the hardest to master though. These days I prefer to train Japanese combat sword arts. There’s nothing like wielding a three-foot razor blade to get some respect!

Given your background, all of the extremely cool and in-demand skills that you have, the fact that no one will mess with you under any circumstances, might I ask, why write thrillers?


I have always been interested in writing. By 18, I had written a full-length novel and over 200 short stories. Unfortunately, my professional life made extreme demands on my time so it wasn’t until recently that I could return to my first love: telling lies on paper. I’ve had a fast-paced life so thrillers are a natural choice as my genre. I’ve also come across some weird stuff over the years, so all my books have a touch of the unusual about them, too.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?


I think I’d made the decision when I ‘liberated’ a typewriter from my Dad’s office when I was 15. It just took me a while to accumulate enough experience of the real world to make for interesting and original tales in my novels.

Let's talk a little bit about your books. The latest, Leaving Shadows, literally sounds like it could be a Bond movie--tell us a bit more about it.

I grew up with the Bond books; Fleming’s character really broke molds in its day and my first incursion into novel writing was heavily influenced by these. Although my previous three thrillers have involved Special Ops people, ‘Leaving Shadows’ is the first that revolves around present-day intelligence agents. It kicks off with the kidnapping of the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service (that’s MI6) and the use of a private rescue and recovery agency to get him back. But everything is very different from what it initially appears to be and soon various intelligence agencies, a wily Eastern Block arms dealer and the aforementioned Kidnap Recovery firm find themselves battling to control the most devastating WMD that Man has invented. It’s nail-biting stuff right to the very end. As usual, there are several real World events mixed into my tale, some that will surprise the reader and make them wonder what I know that they don’t.

In taking a look at the CULL, it sounds like a very cool read, sort of Tom Clancy meets Stephanie Meyer (probably leaning more toward the Clancy side of things--correct me if I'm wrong). Since various world powers don't, in fact, utilize vampires (or do they...?), where did you come up with the idea to blend vampires with a crime thriller?

This book was written as a birthday present for a family member, a keen vampire fan, but I wanted to do something original. My starting point was to define what I didn’t want to write. I wanted to avoid the teen romance/erotic bites of the current vampire trends and go back to basics. Vampire myths have been around long before Bram Stoker wrote ‘Dracula’ and I researched into those looking for an innovative approach, which I found. I also wanted to recover the sense of dread that Polidori and Stoker’s novels created in their readers’ minds. ‘the CULL is the result. Two female Homeland Security agents take on a serial killer who turns out to be much more, with creepy Vatican priests and hidden agendas rampant throughout. Fans have asked for more, so I’m currently working on two sequels to turn the tale into a trilogy (for now). I have a warning for potential readers, though: read it with the lights on, preferably not alone!

Full Disclosure
really sounds great: a small town, an enormous secret, the President gets involved. Anything more you can tell us?

The tale revolves around a small Southern Texas town, on its last legs as its inhabitants leave to find jobs elsewhere. Overnight it becomes a high-tech battleground as a result of the President’s decision to disclose something that’s been a secret for over sixty years. There are dark factions at work, and two assassination attempts are made against the President in the course of the novel. The town’s almost-retired Chief of Police finds himself partnered with a psychopathic covert agent as the township’s quiet life is forever destroyed by the actions of a drug lord and his henchmen, professional assassins and rogue military factions. It’s one of those ‘can’t put down’ books that keep you up at night wondering if what I’m describing could be the truth.

I have a hunch what 2012 is about--interestingly enough, I'm researching Ancient Egypt for one of my current works in progress. How did you manage to balance research time and writing time, and tell us a little more about the book?


You may be wrong in your hunch…

I have always been fascinated by the ancient Egyptians. When researching for ‘2012’, which I originally wrote in 2006, I came across the Khemetians who pre-dated the Pharaohs. They were an amazing society, in many ways even more interesting than the different Pharaoh dynasties that followed.  But don’t get the idea that this thriller is set in ancient times though; just the opening chapter. Then there’s a quick jump to the mid-twentieth century to meet the villain of the piece, followed by another skip to two storylines set in 2009 and 2012 which come together in the explosive and polemic ending. You’ll either hate it or love it – no middle ground – but you won’t forget it! It’s a complex novel where research alone took three years before penning the first word. World events have prompted two revisions to keep the book as close to reality as I wanted, so even if the date is now in our past, the novel is still a terrific read that will keep you turning pages well into the night.

If any of your books were to be adapted into a movie, any thought as to who would play some of the characters and/or what locations you'd want to shoot at?


Ever since ‘Full Disclosure’ was published, people have been saying it should be turned into a movie or TV Miniseries. Certainly it has all the elements of an intriguing nail-biter. With financial considerations being what they are these days, it would also be a relatively cheap movie to film as most of the action takes place in the small town located in Southern Texas, not far from the US border. The town is one of the characters in the novel and deserves to be treated as authentically as possible. The scenes in Washington, with the exception of the Capitol Subway assassination attempt could easily be done in a studio too. That just leaves the UAV drones as one of the most expensive parts to source. Regarding possible actors, I have no preferences.

In all seriousness, I'm sure you've come across a lot of sensitive or even downright classified information through your various gigs. Obviously without going into too much detail, is it difficult not to put some of that information in your novels when it might make them more realistic? Or do you find that you can strike a good balance between what to tell and what not to tell?


In dealing with that kind of information, when it’s not obvious or subject to specific legal constraints, then the rule of thumb is common sense. Of course things do find their way into the early drafts of my thrillers and are then removed as editing proceeds. Some remains although this is either ‘relatively public’ in nature, or heavily disguised so individuals are not highlighted. Some have written to me asking if Character X is really them, and we’ve often had a chuckle about that. What novelist doesn’t draw on their experience when writing fiction? I also include details not just of technology and how it is used, but of places and techniques (such as fighting methods and weaponry I’ve used) where I can to make things as realistic as possible without giving too much away or putting myself on anyone’s blacklists.

Lightning round time!

Place you want to visit that you haven't gotten the chance to yet?
[Lightning? Are you referring to ‘Leaving Shadows’ again?] China.

Mac or PC?
PC – tried Macs when they first came out, but stuck with Windoze.

Cake or pie?
Can I have both? Cooking is a hobby.

"If I had a billion dollars, I'd..."?
Try to help as many individuals as I can. There are many out there you could use a little assistance at certain moments in their lives. I’d do this anonymously though – I’m not interested in charity to garner publicity.

Favorite Author? Too many and constantly changing. I’m a faithful reader of at least a dozen authors though.

Favorite Novel and/or Movie of All Time?
Favorite movie, that’s easy: Young Frankenstein; causes a smile just thinking about it. Then there would be a long list of John Wayne westerns. As for novels, there’s not one that is an all-time favorite. With my quirky memory, I have only re-read three books during my whole lifetime, so even that’s not a good guide. I can usually pick up a book I’ve read before, read the first few lines and then remember the rest in considerable detail even if thirty years or more have passed since the initial reading. The three re-reads? All non-fiction. One that I might cite however is James Clavell’s Shogun; great story, loosely based on fact, and a superb description of a time and culture unknown by many westerners. I’d thoroughly recommend it – buy it after purchasing one (or more) of mine though, please ;-) Got to go now, my shoe-phone’s ringing…

Thanks Eric--great stuff! Be sure to check out Eric's books, Leaving Shadows, The CULL, Full Disclosure, and 2012, all on Hunt to Read. And be sure to check out Eric's other stuff at the following links:


Leaving Shadows      http://authl.it/B00DJANLQS?d

Full Disclosure          http://authl.it/B007XIR5Z0?d

the CULL                     http://authl.it/B00AGZ27FA?d

2012                             http://authl.it/B0037CF224?d


Author website (with extracts from all the novels and their Inside Secrets): www.ericjgates.com


Eric’s blog featuring many guest posts from a wide range of authors: my-thrillers.blogspot.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/eThrillerWriter
D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.

For Readers' Eyes Only: Guilty Pleasures...

Fifty Shades of Grey was a literary phenomenon like few others we've seen. It sold over 70 million copies worldwide, making author E.L. James and her publisher mountains and mountains of money.

A lot of folks decried this development; the book wasn't terribly well-written, and the salacious nature of the story led a number of the snobbier readers out there to proclaim the end of Western civilization.

"But D.J., how can you possibly say the book wasn't well-written when you haven't even read it?"



Umm...



Well....

About that...

I...err...(mumbles)...kinda bought it...

"You bought Fifty Shades of freakin' GREY!?!"

Hey, come on, now! I had a very good reason. At the time, I was writing a trio of books that had some fairly graphic sex scenes (it's the Debt of Souls series, and I think I'm going to cut all of that stuff out before I release them). I tried to get through Fifty Shades as research, to see how a successful erotica writer would tackle those kinds of things, but it really just wasn't my thing--I stopped around the 25% mark.

But the very fact that I have to explain that I bought one of the most successful books of all time brings me to my point: though a lot of us like to imagine that we only read the latest Pynchon novel in between re-readings of Infinite Jest, the reality is that each of us tend to like certain kinds of stories, be they Mystery, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Erotica (OOOOOH!), etc.

In the past, a lot of times, our taste in books was open to ridicule; the cover was prominently on display for all to see if we'd read on a bus or plane, or worse still, if we were in school and dared to read a book during indoor recess.

Kids, especially, used to get all kinds of crap for being "nerds" or "weirdos" based on what they read. A young Ray Bradbury famously went home and destroyed all of the sci-fi comics and books he had in an attempt to fit in, then wept the next day when he realized that those stories were gone for good.

It's a heartbreaking tale, but one that carries a valuable lesson about not caring what other people think about you or what you're doing, a lesson that far too people grasp until far too late in their lives.

So, if you're brave enough to volunteer in the comments, I ask you: what kinds of guilty pleasures do you enjoy reading? Corny space operas? Erotica? Bodice-ripping romances? Epic fantasy? Something really out there?

I know of people who would snicker at and deride anyone who read any of these listed genres.

Why?

Why do these people care?

It's simply not worth it--even though Fifty Shades of Grey wasn't for me, I'm not going to tell people who enjoy it that they should be ashamed of reading it--different strokes for different folks and all.

I guess what I'm trying to do is to take the "guilt" out of "guilty pleasures" a bit. Fortunately, eBooks are happy to lend a helping hand; no reason anyone else needs to know what's on that screen in front of you, unless it's a picture book, in which case, you should probably use your discretion in the first place.

Or maybe the "guilt" is what makes reading these books so fun! Maybe it's the "forbidden" nature of these stories, the graphic violence, the salty language, the lurid sex, that causes word of them to spread like wildfire through the community, the outrage fanning the flames all the while.

I'm not sure either way--thoughts? Reactions? Leave them in the comments, if you dare...

Until next time, Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Twilight of the Gods, Chapter 8" by D.J. Gelner

Not too much to add to the intro here; this is the penultimate installment of Twilight of the Gods. If we don't get any submissions for FFF after next week, my short novel, Hack: Innings 1-3, is next on the list. Word of caution--that one's not exactly for the kiddos.

If you can't wait until next week for the conclusion to
Twilight of the Gods, it's available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo for $0.99.
If you missed them, here are the previous installments:
Chapters 1 & 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5Chapter 6

Chapter 7


Thanks everyone, and enjoy!


-D.J.


Twilight of the Gods
D.J. Gelner
Chapter 8


The cadre of gods arrived on the shores of the East River, carried by Apollo’s chariot, which the now-missing god had failed to collect before absconding to parts unknown.

They arrived after dark; what they found caused a thin smile to grace the lips of Zeus himself. Sirens blared through the streets, cutting through the sounds of shattering glass as tumult engulfed each block. Shadows of buildings drew ever longer in the presence of the pale moonlight, which poured through the steam given off by angry mobs and manhole covers alike to provide the illusion that the entire city was simmering to a boil.

“There!” Zeus pointed toward a part of town consumed by rabble and illuminated by millions of watts worth of flashing signs of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Zeus, Poseidon, and Artemis each had to work to keep their jaws firmly in place, though to Hermes, the novelty of Times Square’s lights had worn off years before.

They put the chariot down on a side-street. Zeus allowed his relatives to disembark before he strode toward the throng of people in the streets, thin chest jutted outward, chin extended toward the glitzy sky.

“Make way—make way!” Zeus snarled. He brought a hand up to part the massive crowd, but his arm was batted about spectators like it was made of rubber.

Eager to curry favor, Hermes got out in front of his father to clear a path for him. It was only then that a wretched-looking, drunken man in a disheveled suit pointed directly in the face of the messenger of the gods.

“Hey, issssss you!” The man yelled. He pointed toward one of the massive video monitors suspended above the fray. There was Hermes’s picture, with “Herm Olympus” plastered underneath.

“Everybody quiet!” Hermes found the cry to be particularly plebeian.

“Authorities issued a warrant today for the arrest of Herm Olympus, architect of a massive insider trading scandal that has brought world financial markets to their knees. We now go live to the Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, who is set to make a statement regarding this horrible financial tragedy.”

The screen cut to a man in a well-tailored suit, with a bushy mustache to presumably offset the male-pattern baldness that ravaged his polished head. He was already speaking and staring down at his notes; the TV station had omitted all of the customary introductory comments.

“The size and scope of this scheme is unprecedented, the level of outrage and chaos it has caused, shameful. In light of these extremely extenuating circumstances, we have now decided along with authorities at every major stock exchange world-wide, to wipe today’s data from the system and start over anew, with a clean slate, tomorrow morning, as if today never occurred. We want to reiterate that extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, and in no way…”

The rest of the speech was drowned out by a chorus of loud cheers. Strangers hugged one another with irrational exuberance, especially given that moments before they had been fighting over a purse stolen from a third party.

Zeus’s eyes went wide. He glared at Hermes, “What does that mortal mean?”

Hermes shuddered. He couldn’t believe his own ears, “No—no it can’t be! You people have rules. You can’t just throw those rules out the window when it suits you! I learned those rules, each and every one of them! And now you, you peons have the audacity to say that what I did had no import?!”

As he built to a crescendo, more eyes turned toward the messenger god, who, aside from the anachronistic toga that he wore, still looked exactly like Herm Olympus.

“Hey, it’s him!” A woman yelled.

“Get him!”

The crowd closed in on the gods, who were forced up against one another, back-to-back. Projectiles ranging from hot dogs to full beers flew through the air at the deities, pillorying them with all manner of rubbish and condiments, though so ravenous was Poseidon that he scarfed down anything edible cast his direction.

Artemis reached for her bow, but found it snatched from her grip by a gaggle of angry humans. She backed up against her father, her arms covering her face, bracing for the worst.

Zeus lowered his head. His eyes narrowed even as his right eye began to twitch, streaked red by blood vessels straining to keep from bursting. The veins in his neck bulged as his long-dormant muscles shook and came alive. One of his trembling arms reached back until his hand closed around something, and thrust it forward toward the crowd.

“Ba-ROOOM-ROOOOM!”

Thunder cracked across the crowd at close range, causing thousands to reach for their ears. The loud rumble shattered what glass remained along the first few floors of the glittering skyscrapers that lined the streets, as shards fell toward the earth, miniature fireworks streaked by neon.

Zeus grew in size; as if feeding on the mortal fear all around him, long-sagging skin again went taut as he reached for and hurled another thunderbolt.

“ENOUGH!” Zeus yelled, the echoes of his booming voice intertwined with residual rumbles of thunder reverberating through the streets. “The time has come for you mortals to recognize your true gods, long ago forgotten atop Olympus to rot. Pay us homage, and tribute, and sacrifice, and we may yet allow you to live. Fail to do so, and see the full carnage of which we are capable!”

Zeus pointed back at where he thought Poseidon would be, but the god was nowhere to be found. The king of the gods scanned the crowd for signs of his brother, and finally found him shoveling armloads of food from a hot dog cart down his gullet.

“Poseidon!” Zeus cringed.

Poseidon’s eyes went wide. He scarfed down the food in his most recent armload, then snapped to attention.

Zeus looked upward toward the sky. After several moments of contemplation, the sea god nodded and raised his trident toward the heavens. Raindrops began to fall, first as a smattering, then gradually building to great sheets. Though some in the crowd scattered, others found their legs filled with lead, immobile and at rapt attention at the spectacle surrounding them.

Zeus reached back once more, “Pay us heed, the gods demand it!” he cast another thunderbolt toward the heavens. It exploded above the multi-colored lights, causing the sky to momentarily become a mass of swirling, sparkling hues amid the roar of thunder.

As the king of the gods viewed the display, he dropped to his knees, enchanted by the one singular moment that he had unwittingly conspired with these mortal devices to create. It was sublime, the way that the colors set the clouds ablaze with personality, dare he say life.

He hadn’t witnessed such beauty since the long-ago master mortals had crafted their statues and reliefs in the gods’ images, each one a unifying bridge between the human and the divine.

Zeus’s chest heaved; awe quickly turned to exhaustion, yet he couldn’t tear his gaze from the now-dormant sky.

The mortals regained their senses as the commotion calmed.

“It is him—Herm Olympus!”

“My kid almost didn’t get to go to college because of you!”

Hermes eyed the emboldening crowd and patted Zeus on the shoulder, “Uh, father? Now would be a good time for another thunderbolt.”

Zeus continued to stare upward.

Hermes turned his attention toward Artemis, “Dear half-sister, perhaps some well-placed arrows would stem their discord?”

In the confusion, Artemis had reclaimed her bow, but as she reached back for her arrows, she realized that they, too, had been stolen.

“Get him!”

Hermes grabbed his father under the arm. He secured Artemis around the waist and gripped the fabric of Poseidon’s toga as he bolted away from the regrouping throng, and toward the alleyway housing the chariot.

He threw them in Apollo’s chariot and seized the reigns. Curiously, a carbon copy piece of paper was secured within them, with “NYC Parking Violation” written atop it.

“Never was my kind of town anyway,” he quipped to no one in particular. “Yah!” he snapped the reigns taut, and Apollo’s horses carried the four weary gods back toward Olympus.

Poseidon and Artemis sat and stared the entire time, still trying to grasp exactly what had happened. Zeus leaned up against the carriage of the chariot, head bobbing to-and-fro as if drugged.

“Beautiful,” he muttered, again and again.

“Beautiful.”

They arrived in the Pantheon, shivering from the harsh North Atlantic crossing. As Hermes helped each god in turn down from the chariot, he finally turned his attention to Zeus, who still lay, utterly spent. Hermes struggled to move his father, but his form still was engorged from the evening’s activities.

“I could…could somebody…it’s just he’s too big!” Hermes pulled on his father’s legs, but they would not yield.

“You know, if you wanted a ride, you could’ve just asked,” a voice said from over Hermes’s shoulder. A long, wide shadow darkened the floor of the Pantheon, even as the sun’s first rays began to flash brilliant oranges and reds across the battered marble façade.

Hermes turned and braced himself, ready for whomever or whatever had chased him down.

Instead, he breathed a sigh of relief.

The familiar form of Apollo stood in front of him, recognizable only in the sense that he had been restored to his former glory; cheeks filled with both flesh and color complimented his muscular frame and winning smile. The only thing that seemed out of place was a pair of designer sunglasses, which made the god look like a movie star.

“Now I think it’s time that we try my plan.”

* * *

Twilight of the Gods now available for $0.99 at the following retailers:

Kindle

Nook

Kobo

Happy Hunting!


D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Taking a Closer Look at Your Amazon Product Page; Guest Post by Bruce Fottler

While we were off yesterday, I assure you, that time was well-spent preparing an extremely helpful guest post (our first!) by our dear friend of Hunt to Read, Bruce Fottler. You might remember Bruce as the first author to dare stray inside the hard-hitting arena that is "Know Your HTR Authors." He was fantastic then, and he brought the heat in his guest post, as well. Enjoy!

-D.J.


Taking a Closer Look at Your Amazon Product Page

by Bruce Fottler (accord64) You spend countless hours writing and polishing your literary masterpiece. Then, after exhaustive research, pondering, and probably more pondering, you decide to bypass traditional publishing and self-publish. You'll go on to craft a marketing plan, sign up with KDP, and put your hopefully-soon-to-be-bestseller up for sale on Amazon.

Now that it's up for sale, and you take a long look over your Amazon product page, have you wondered what really stands out most to readers who come across your book?

With the help of some rather interesting data from a June 2013 reader survey (from the article “Readers Sound Off. How They Read, What They Like, and Where They Find Us” by Marie Force), I'd like to explore what elements on your Amazon product page have the most impact on readers. According to this survey, the sad fact for us self-published authors is that 68% of readers are “less likely” to buy a self-published book from an author who is unknown to them. So, unless you're fortunate enough to be a well-known author, it becomes even more important to make sure you're making the best possible impression on your Amazon product page.

Amazon is currently the kingpin of online booksellers. 80% of the June survey responders report buying their books from Amazon. Barnes & Noble came in a distant second with 23%. But these critical product-page elements can easily pertain to any other online retail product page, because they all basically present the same information.

I want to stress that while I'm going to identify critical product-page elements, I don't profess to be an expert at maximizing your success with these elements. Many books and articles have been written for each of these. I'll leave which methods and approaches are best for you to decide, because I'm still learning more about them myself.

So, let's take a closer look at what stands out to readers when they see your Amazon product page.


It's All About the Cover

Never judge a book by its cover. Most of us were taught this and it's generally good advice – except when you're actually trying to sell a book. The June survey asked readers what elements of a cover design most impacted their decision to purchase a book. A majority (52%) considered the professionalism of the cover design was important. Only 32% claimed that covers rarely influenced them.

Your book cover is the first visible element any reader will come across. It's the wrapping on your product. Think about the last time you were looking over the cereal isle at a grocery store. Product placement might have a lot to do with where you look first, but it's ultimately the packaging that attracts your attention. A nicely designed box may not sell the cereal to you, but it's crafted to entice you to take a closer look.

That's what a good book cover will do for you. It'll get you that closer look. A poorly-designed cover will probably be the reason a reader won't continue looking deeper into your product page. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfect work of art, but it needs to convey two things: A sense of what your story's about, and that you have a quality product to offer.

Oh, and your cover should look good as a thumbnail image, because that's probably how readers will first encounter it.

Whether you do it yourself or outsource it, the lesson here is to pay attention to your cover. Don't just throw something together because you think it won't really matter that much to a reader. It does matter; it matters a lot. Just as a nice exterior helps to sell a house, a good book cover is equally important to selling books.


The Blurb Sets the Hook

Once you've drawn them in with your well-designed cover, a reader will likely look over the product description (or “blurb”) next. They want to know what your book's about, and if it will interest them. But they also don't want to read through a novelette in order to find this out. Think of your blurb as an elevator pitch. John Grisham implored that if a book can't be described in a couple of sentences, then it's not a story worth telling. That may seem rather extreme for an Amazon blurb (or maybe not), but his point is to keep it concise.

Blurbs also give readers a reason to consider purchasing your book, or at least to create a desire to give it closer look. There are many styles and strategies out there to help you write an effective blurb, but it's important to understand how critical it is to the overall purchase decision. It's wise to invest the time and effort to get it right (and have it proofed)!

There's also one interesting June survey conclusion that might affect your idea to seek out an endorsement: “Author endorsements don’t matter as much as industry insiders think they do. Most readers don’t care about them.”


Starstruck

Oh, those rating stars. They seem to be placed at key focal points on any given book-product page. Amazon puts them square at the top so they're nearly impossible to miss. Someday, I think they might even make them sparkle. They're also something you have no real control over, and yet it's one of the most visible elements on your product page.

But how much influence do they really have on readers?

The June survey results indicate that 43% of readers will wait to purchase a book if they see a low star rating. However, it's interesting to note that 38% will still try a low star-rated book if they like the book cover and sample.

So, while rating stars seem to matter to some readers, others might be willing to look beyond a low rating. The curious readers will inevitably move on to read over the reviews.

Like rating stars, reviews are something we have scant control over (and you should NEVER try to assert control over them). Despite that helpless feeling the review process gives us, here are a couple of interesting facts from the June survey that might make you feel a little better:

Only 18% are “very much” influenced by reviews, while 53% are “somewhat” swayed by reviews. That sort of surprised me. But on second thought, if you consider the ongoing controversies over sock-puppet (or paid) reviews, it may not be so surprising that readers don't put as much faith in them anymore.

It's inevitable that we'll all see our share of bad reviews. They can seem unreasonable, pick on things you think are irrelevant, and generally raise your blood-pressure. You'll be tempted to respond. I strongly recommend you don't. I've seen way too many author/reader interactions over a bad review, and it hardly ever ends well for the author.

The best thing you can do is to learn what you can from it and move on.


The Price is Right

How much is your book really worth? Price it too high, and it could scare readers away. Price it too low, and readers might think it's priced low for the wrong reason. Here's what the June survey article concluded about eBook prices:

“More than half don’t care how much a book costs if they want it badly enough. Most expect to pay $4.99 for a full-length novel (80,000 words or more) and between $0.99 and $1.99 for a 25,000-word novella.”

Besides writing a book people will want badly enough, pricing it correctly is part of yet another key element on your product page. Be sure to do your research. Find the sweet spot for your book length (and genera) and continue to monitor pricing trends.


The Rest of the Product Page

If readers are on the fence, they'll likely look over the book sample and maybe your Amazon author profile. I'd say the book sample is the next most important thing. If a reader has come this far into your Amazon page, the sample needs to seal the deal. If not; no sale. Simple as that.

I'll go back to something I've heard many times (including from John Grisham): You must hook readers within the first few pages or you'll lose them. Hopefully, you've incorporated that philosophy into your writing. It's also important to make sure your book was properly edited, because according to the June survey, only 32% of readers aren't bothered much by typos.

Setting up an Amazon author page is always beneficial, particularly if you have more than one book for sale. It'll help lead readers to your other books. They also like to know a little bit about you, so please make sure you post a good picture of yourself. I know I might sound like Captain Obvious by pointing that out, but you'd be surprised over the number of haphazard mug-shot's I've run across. Oh, and those scowling or odd gimmicky shots featuring your favorite Star Trek prop don't usually work well, either.


What Hunt To Read Brings

Now that we've seen that covers and blurbs are the top elements on a product page, getting feedback on either is often difficult. Book reviews rarely mention them. Amazon (or any other book retailer) doesn’t supply separate ratings (or analytics) for these items. So, how do we know if they're effective? Critique groups could help. Perhaps that popular writer-forum you regularly post to could vote on them (good luck with that). But what do readers think? You know, those people who are going to buy your book?

I've found that HTR can be a great resource for this, as they allow readers to separately rate covers and blurbs. I've actually come to a decision to upgrade covers based on input from these ratings. As the site grows, and more ratings are left, I'll always be using HTR to help reassess the effectiveness of my covers and blurbs.

Well, that's my take on Amazon product pages. I wish the best of luck to my fellow authors. It can be a tough and unforgiving marketplace, and I'm happy to share my thoughts and experiences. Keep on writing!

* * * * *

Bruce Fottler is the author of three books that are featured on HTR. Stop in, take a look, and leave a rating (and keep racking up those points!):



The Juncture (I have to admit, Bruce's new cover for The Juncture is quite stunning!)

Check out Bruce's Amazon Author Page.

In case you missed it above, Bruce was also our first author to be interviewed on "Know Your HTR Authors."

Oh, and according to the June survey, if an author had to choose one social media platform, it should be Facebook. So, please feel free to visit Bruce's Facebook book pages:

Chasing Redemption Facebook Page




Thursday, September 19, 2013

For Readers' Eyes Only: From Page to Screen - What's Important?

I've previously admitted to being a fan of the Hunger Games trilogy of books, by Suzanne Collins.

Yes, I know, admitting it is the first step.

The second step is going to see the movie with your buddy in a theater full of shrieking pre-teens, all while an overprotective helicopter mom narrated the movie to her eight year old son:

"That's Peeta--he's the boy who gave Katniss bread before. Katniss doesn't know what to do here--she likes Gail, but Peeta is going to the Hunger Games with her. That's why she's so frustrated and confused..."

I can't even make this stuff up--the entire movie with this!
Aside from creating a generation that can't think or figure things out for themselves (that's a topic for a different post), it's on Netflix now, and of course I watched it again.

I think Jennifer Lawrence did a heckuva job as Katniss, and by-and-large, the rest of the cast was pretty great, too. It'll be interesting to see what they do as the trilogy continues to get darker, but by-and-large, I think that the director, screenwriter, cast, and crew deserve a hearty thumbs-up.

Of course, they don't need my approval; plenty of people agreed with me. The movie went on to gross $684 million worldwide, and the studio went ahead and greenlit three sequels already (yes, they're splitting the third book into two movies, don't ask me how).

People like to see books adapted for the big screen, and (maybe more importantly) so do studios, as the avid readers who first discovered the story in book form will line up around the block to buy tickets on day one.

At the same time, for every Hunger Games, there's a Jack Reacher, which despite a respectable $153 million worldwide gross and Tom Cruise's star power, disappointed with a $72 million take in the U.S.

It makes you wonder, what exactly are audiences looking for in a movie adaptation of a book? I mean, on the one hand, studios like the built-in audience that books have, but then they have to work extra hard to confirm that audience's mental picture of what each character, each place, each scene looks like, and how to figure out what exactly "the fat" is in the story so that they can trim it to fit neatly in a 90-150 minute package.

When they hit, as in The Hunger Games, the rewards can be numerous. Jennifer Lawrence's career launched into the stratosphere, and many of the actors in smaller roles have similarly capitalized on their success. The studio makes a ton of money and gets a new franchise.

But most importantly, readers' impressions of the world are confirmed. It's like that magical moment when you're at a stand-up comedy show, and the comedian just says, "You ever think BLAH BLAH BLAH?" and you do think, "YES! I THINK BLAH BLAH BLAH ALL THE TIME HAHAHAHAHA!"

I'll take it a step further, though; because books are so powerful engines of the imagination, because they challenge our minds to flesh out the world that the author has sketched for us with color, sets, and even made-up actors in beloved roles, when a major Hollywood studio is able to even come close to realizing that picture on a huge scale, and confirm not just the atmosphere but the essence of that book, as beloved by millions...well, folks, that's just magic.

So what I want to know is what are the necessary ingredients for that magic. When you're watching a movie adaptation of a beloved book, what makes you nod your head? What makes you grimace and turn from the screen in disgust? Is it the casting? The script? What they cut out? What they leave in? The soundtrack? The costume design? The pacing?

All of these are valid answers--or it could be something that I'm not even conisdering.

Let us know in the comments--hopefully we'll recap it next week and try to figure out, definitively, what you want to see in big screen adaptations of your favorite books.

Until next time, Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Twilight of the Gods, Chapter 7," by D.J. Gelner

Another week, still no Free Featured Fiction submissions. It doesn't even have to be a whole story--we're happy to feature excerpts from books, chapters, etc. I'm warning you, if we don't get anything else, I'm going to be forced to start serializing the first part of my novel, Hack: The Complete Game, and it's filled with all kinds of baseball and hootin' and hollerin' and cussin'. You've been warned...

In all seriousness, though, we'd love to feature your fiction samples or stories here on the Hunt to Read Blog, along with links to your books on Hunt to Read and links to any other sites (social media, etc.) you might want us to include. It's simple enough--here are the guidelines one more time.

Okay, okay--I get it. To those of you who have been along for the ride thus far, I appreciate your continued interest. TotG is now available on Amazon, Nook, and Kobo if you
juuuust can't bear to wait for the exciting conclusion--links at the end.

If you've missed the earlier installments in the series, here are the links:

Chapters 1 & 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5Chapter 6


Without further delay, I'm pleased to give you Twilight of the Gods: Chapter 7, by yours truly. Enjoy!

-D.J.


Twilight of the Godsby D.J. Gelner

Chapter 7


Hermes arrived at the Pantheon a short time thereafter, beaming at the chaos he had wrought.
“Father! Artemis! Come quickly! See what I have done! It is time to reveal ourselves to the masses!”
Zeus snapped out of a hunger-induced nap, eyes initially bearing down on the interloper who had roused him before his ears caught up.
“Wha…Hermes? Back already?”
Hermes winced; his father’s off-the-cuff remark bristled the hairs on the back of the messenger god’s neck. Had Hermes been working so hard for so many years just so his father and the rest of their ilk could continue napping, “resting” for mortals-know what kind of opportunity in the future?
And yet, Hermes had created such an opportunity! His annoyance was replaced by the sly grin of impending triumph, and surely, a higher position among his comrades in the Pantheon once all was said and done.
“Dear half-brother, have you news?” Artemis asked.
“Do I have news? Do I have news? Only that I have succeeded in single-handedly bringing the mortals’ capital markets to their knees before me! That I have caused the values of their corporations to shrivel and wither on the vine like grapes left in the heat of the sun. Do I have news? I am the news!”
Zeus, Artemis, and the now-yawning Poseidon exchanged curious glances; though they knew they wanted to bring all of humanity to monetary ruin, they hadn’t the faintest clue about just how the puny creatures’ financial system operated.
Hermes sighed and rolled his eyes, “It is done.
“Uh…good,” Zeus let the bulk of Hermes’s words flow over him before the relevant kernel caught the King of the gods square on, “Good. So hope is lost among them?”
“They cast themselves off of tall buildings so as to hasten arrival upon uncle Hades’s doorstep,” Hermes replied.
“And they are ready to embrace a new way of worship? A new faith?” Artemis asked, eyebrow arched.
“If not now, then I fear they never will be,” Hermes answered honestly.
“Then it is settled!” Zeus rubbed his eyes even as he bellowed the words too-loudly, still half-dreaming, “Whence shall I reclaim my earthly throne?”
“A city across the great Atlantean crater-sea called ‘New York,’” Hermes said, “the world’s trade capital, and home to an…interesting…selection of individuals, to say the least.”
Without so much as a “thank you,” Zeus rose from his throne and took long, measured steps down the mountaintop as he motioned for Poseidon to join him. The sea god shrugged, grabbed his trident, and followed his brother without a word.
Hermes initially followed close behind, but was stopped short of the exit by Artemis.
“What?” it was all the messenger god could do to muffle the annoyance in his voice.
“Noble half-brother, if what you say is true, if you have truly brought human commerce to its knees, then I owe you a debt of greatest gratitude.”
Hermes initially wanted nothing more than to waive his half-sister away, but instead gazed into her eyes. They were the eyes of a deity, sure as sunshine, but they were fiery, driven, as if propelling her toward an eventuality she had foreseen long ago.
“Oh?” The messenger of the gods asked coyly.
Artemis nodded, “Indeed.” She placed an arm on his forearm and looked around the Pantheon to confirm that all of the other gods had left, “I suppose I have yet to disclose my true motivation for all of these schemes, but as the second most agile mind in the entire Pantheon, I suppose that you of all gods and goddesses could appreciate the intricacies of plotting and silver-tipped tongue such machinations required.”
Hermes arched an eyebrow, “Indeed I can. Pray tell, fair Artemis, though I may be only a mere intellectual lightweight, a fool able to trick humans but not gods, what has your plan been all this time, provided my meager faculties are sufficient enough to process such a brilliant scheme?”
Artemis grinned, “Why, dear Hermes, isn’t it obvious? For years, human ‘industry’ has leveled forests, choked streams and rivers, and fouled the very air we breathe, all in the name of ‘progress.’ In striving to be more like us, emulate our powers, they have spoiled the entire landscape that I hold sacred, the very life-giving forces that they so take for granted.”
She raised a knowing finger, “Ah, but if industry is forced to stop, if the machines belching thick smoke no longer can run, if the pipes spewing filth into the rivers and streams suddenly go dry, my planet can begin to heal itself once more. Great forests will grow again, sheltering herds of animals that will claim the ruins of overgrown cities once more! In short,” she licked her lips, “balance will be restored to the great planet. Then, once father is suitably impressed, he will leave me as the second-in-command of all of Olympus, fit to rule far and wide as he’s off on his more ‘rambunctious’ pursuits.”
Hermes’s eyes bulged. He could barely contain himself as he began first to tremble, then finally convulse with laughter.
“What? What is it?” Artemis’s face went ashen.
That was your master plan? To reduce the human population so that some of your precious animals could roam ‘pristine’ forests once more?”
“You were little more than my pawn!”
“A pawn that, I fear, has caught you in check!” Hermes yelled back.
“Do tell, dear half-brother,” Artemis crossed her arms.
“When the humans come crawling back to worship us once more, don’t you think that father will realize that I am the more capable and cunning child? Fit to rule over these mortals as a god-king, no longer spending miserable stretches squiring their shadows to Hades’ dark doorstep?”
“I suppose we shall see then,” Artemis raised her nose skyward with contempt.
“Indeed we shall,” the two deities rushed to catch up with Zeus as he made his way to the center of the global crisis.

What thrilling surprises await the gods as they storm New York to reclaim their former glory? Find out in Chapter 8 of Twilight of the Gods. Or, if you can't wait, it's now available for $0.99 at the following retailers:

Kindle

Nook

Kobo

Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.