So, my novella, Fifteen Shots, is now available for the Barnes & Noble NOOK. No foolin’. Click here.
(I know I could just write “Nook,” but Barnes & Noble always lists it as “NOOK,” so I usually always go along with that. Just like the exclamation point in “Yahoo!” The actions of a journalist, an editor or someone with random occurrences of extremely mild OCD? Perhaps all three.)
If you’re wondering why I didn’t make the e-book available on the other major book reader earlier, well, once I fought through the tedious process of formatting the book for the Kindle, I didn’t feel like doing that sort of thing all over again. Little did I know about Calibre, which made the conversion process easy. I mean, embarrassingly easy. Like, “I can’t believe how easy that was, why didn’t you do that earlier, you ignorant, lazy fool?” sort of easy.
So, I guess it boils down to laziness. Sorry. Lesson learned. But the book is there now! And still just $2.99!
Of the most excellent people who have bought my novella for the Amazon Kindle thus far — still for sale, very cheap! — a few have asked about the book cover. The most common question being: “Who designed the cover?” Well, it was me.
I’m no Chip Kidd or anything, but I think it’s decent enough. It works for a literary novella. At the very least, it doesn’t strike me as hopelessly amateurish or cheesy, like most self-published books I’ve seen. It’s simple, but it’s clean. For someone who isn’t a graphic designer by trade, I decided that trying to do too much would be a big mistake.
The main image was in my head for a while. Two teenage girls are at the center of the action in Fifteen Shots. Something happens which alters their lives greatly. That’s all I need to say, right? I could say more, but you’d be better off just reading the book.
First, I hand-cut the girl’s figure into a piece of cardboard. I wanted the cover image to appear feminine, of course, and somewhat fragile, but I also wanted an element of toughness. My first thought was to fill the cutout with black pepper. But after scattering some pepper across a sheet of white paper, it was clear that wouldn’t give me the effect I wanted. It was too fine. I wanted fragility, yes, but not someone who would be completely decimated by a light breeze. After rooting around in my cupboards, I found the answer. Black sugar. I filled in the cutout with black sugar, then scattered the “top half” grains across the paper in various patterns until I found an image that struck me just right.
After that, it was photo time. I’m not a professional photographer, so I can’t tell you exactly what I was doing, nor did I really know at the time. I took a bunch of pictures of my black sugar figure and picked the best one. I popped that shot into a photo editing program and messed with the color, shading, and so on.
Finally, it was text time. Again, the credo was “simple and clean.” Oh, and professional. The very least I could do was pick a good-looking font. I went through every font in the photo editing program — most of them looked awful — until I finally convinced myself that I chose wisely. If I were to nitpick the cover today, I’d probably question the text. But I’d rather not drive myself crazy. It’s fine.
And there it was. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, of course. It’s quite possible that to others, the cover looks as cheap as I feared. But for me, it works. Maybe I can get Kidd to do the next one.
So, I wrote a novella. It’s called Fifteen Shots, and I’ve released it as an e-book. You can buy it here.
Here’s the book description I wrote for Amazon:
The mother. The dealer. The detective. In Fifteen Shots, the reader drops into the minds of these and twelve other characters during the course of one fateful day. Two teenage girls duck out of school to make a quick purchase from their favorite drug dealer, but the transaction doesn’t go as planned.
The 15 featured characters are all connected to the shocking outburst at the heart of the story. Fifteen Shots is about the reactions and reflections people make during a time of crisis, the jobs that must be done regardless of urgent circumstances, and the thin line between tragedy and survival.
A short, fast-moving novella, Fifteen Shots is the first published work of fiction from journalist Phil Dzikiy. Visit phildzikiy.com for more information.
There you have it. Exciting, no? Also, a quick warning: If you couldn’t tell from the subject matter, this book is not for the kiddies. If you’re easily offended by explicit language, Fifteen Shots probably isn’t for you. Otherwise, you might enjoy it. It’s a quick read, and the few people who have read it so far (all of ‘em straight shooters) have really enjoyed it.
Anyway. I never thought of self-publishing as something I would ever do. I work at a newspaper, and we get plenty of self-published books. They almost never look like something you’d want to read. If you do flip through the pages, you usually find your initial impressions were accurate. Judging a book by its cover isn’t normally a bad call in these situations. (Or judging the book by its quality of photography, paper, font choice, etc.) And many of the books come from vanity presses.
But, again, I wrote a novella. And very few publishing companies — even small presses — will publish novellas. It’s not exactly a “hot market.” (Though I think, if marketed properly, novellas should actually do well in today’s age, what with all our distractions and short attention spans. You might find a novel daunting, but you might find the time to read a novella.) I submitted to one publishing company that treats the novella with respect. And I waited. I worked on other projects as I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I heard back: No dice. It wasn’t a form letter, and I was informed that “the prose was strong,” but it wasn’t a perfect match, and so on.
So what’s the next step? Very few publishers will even look at novellas, and even if I found a publisher that was a good fit, I’d still have to be accepted. Waiting for that would take months, and if I was rejected, the process would begin again, and I’d be waiting even longer. It could take years, if it ever got published at all. In days gone by, that was the only option, outside of paying for a vanity press to publish my book.
I’d love to find a great publisher at some point (who wouldn’t?), but as a first-time author with no previous published fiction experience, it’s an uphill climb, to say the least. Especially with a novella to sell.
A few months ago, however, a friend enlightened me. He told me about Amazon’s self-publishing program for the Kindle. Told me about the royalties. After a while, it started to sound pretty good. In many ways, the Kindle levels the playing field for authors. I’m selling on Amazon. The Kindle is quickly becoming a dominant publishing force. And perhaps most importantly, my words will look the same as anyone else’s. The words are what matters — not the text. Sure, I don’t have the backing of a major publisher, but my expectations for this book are modest. Most things have been going in this direction, anyway — online, away from the “gatekeepers,” as it were. I suppose there’s no reason why books should be any different.
After enlisting a few friends to read the story, give feedback and check for typos, I did one final edit, formatted the novella for Kindle (not a quick process the first time around), uploaded a cover image and there it is. Instead of worrying about who would publish my book, I allowed myself to get excited. “The book is coming out. It’s coming out! It’s only a matter of time! Nothing can stop it now!” There’s something empowering in that.
I designed the cover myself. Maybe I’ll do a post about that process sometime in the future.
Another thing: The price. I set the initial list price at $2.99. It’s the lowest possible price to earn 70 percent royalties from Amazon. I’d price it higher if it were a full-length novel, but for a novella, I think $2.99 is fair, and really, a great deal. It’s less than a fast food value meal — and better for you!
I know there’s a school of thought out there that believes unknown authors should offer their books for 99 cents, just to get anyone to bite. As that thinking likely goes, a cheaper price will lead to more sales, and if a reader likes it, perhaps they’ll be back for more. Personally, as a reader, I wouldn’t buy a book from an unknown author just because it’s listed at 99 cents — especially a novel. Word of mouth and self-promotion are more important than a rock-bottom list price. Even if you do buy that book, what’s going to make you read it? It might just sit there on your Kindle, unread, forever. Or you might not like the first few pages and quit on it. After all, how invested can you be in completing a 99-cent novel?
Plus, $2.99 is cheap enough. If you’re going to sell a full-length novel for 99 cents, I just think you’re devaluing your own work. And if you’re going to devalue your own work, what makes me want to read it? I know some independent authors would disagree. But hey, whatever works for you. We’ll see how this goes. It’s a learning process.
Moving on. For now, Fifteen Shots is only on Kindle. I might pursue other avenues in the future — perhaps other e-reader options, maybe I’ll find a printed edition necessary at some point. But it took me some time to prep the novella for Kindle. For now, I’m just going to enjoy it.
Am I a bit nervous about this? Sure. But that’s how it goes. If you’re going to be a writer, you’ve gotta put yourself out there. You’ve gotta take the leap. I’ve been doing it in newspapers for years (it’s a bit different, but still). On this blog, too, though my posts are often rather silly.
But I believe in Fifteen Shots. That’s why I released it. I hope you’ll buy it. And I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Care to peek behind the curtain? Here are a bunch of posts that I started writing but never finished, and the odds of the posts still being completed at some point:
The Hierarchy of Grade School Snacking: 35-1. This was supposed to be a collaboration post, but it never materialized. The idea is too fun to banish forever.
My Top 20 Movies of the Decade: 10-1. I’ve gotta think I’ll find the will to write this at some point, but it hasn’t happened yet. List length subject to change.
Pittsburgh Steelers Season Report Card/Offseason Wish List: 500-1. Kind of late at this point.
My Top 10 Albums of 2009 in haiku: 10-1. I should make this list, but it probably won’t be in haiku form. Sorry.
What a twist!: 60-1. An essay about twist endings, and how much value should be placed on them. Interesting enough, but I found it a bit tough to bring together in the right way.
Flipping the on switch: 100-1. A piece about how people kept saying the Penguins needed to “flip the on switch” last season. What if there was no switch, I wondered? Turns out, there wasn’t. Maybe I should have written this. Still a very slim chance this kind of thing rears its head again and causes me to move forward.
Should-be words and their possible definitions: 40-1. A silly lark. Sure, it’s been done, but it still could be fun.
The Funny Pages: 80-1. A little trip through the sad state of today’s newspaper comics. Otherpeople do it much better than me, though, so I haven’t really bothered.
Top 100 Albums of the 90s: 12-1. I don’t like 90s music nearly as much as the last decade’s music, so it’s hard for me to get excited about this. I could reduce the size of the list, but then it’d be much smaller than the 00s list, and that would bother me, because I’m an oddball. So it’s still in limbo.
Toy Story 3: 500-1. It was a quick reaction post that didn’t settle the way I wanted. For the record, though, I love the movie, and I think the Toy Story trilogy might be the best trilogy in film history.