Shorts & E-Publishing

I drafted this post a couple of months ago, and then promptly forgot about it.  I stumbled upon it earlier this month, but figured it was slightly out-of-date as both the serials I talk about have finished.  And then John Scalzi posted today that the two extra short stories in the hardcover of THE HUMAN DIVISION was now available for free on Tor.com, which kind of makes this post relevant again.

So with some minor edits, here are my thoughts on serials – or rather, e-publishing experiments, because that’s what they really are – and some updates below on my current position now that both the John Scalzi and Eloisa James serials have been completed.

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I’m a sucker for short stories and anthologies.  The number of themed anthologies I have is well into double digits (I blame the editors for coming up with amazing ideas and tossing in a few must-read contributors – they know me so well), and yet, the “theme-iness” of anthologies sometimes doesn’t work for me. I’m still halfway through Jonathan Strachan’s UNDER MY HAT anthology because I can’t read too many witch stories at one go without thinking “oh no, not another witch”.

With the advent of e-publishing, it gets a lot easier to release single short stories, but yet I don’t find myself hitting that Buy button for very many standalone shorts.  I’ve been pondering the reasons, and here are some rather rambly thoughts on what short stories work for me, pricing, and whether the serial format would work in any other genre.

15698479On the first, you may have seen some of my mentions of John Scalzi‘s THE HUMAN DIVISION serialisation – we’re now up to week 7 (update: the last episode was released April 9) and I’m still eagerly turning on my Kindle every Tuesday evening to get the latest episode.  Reasons why this set of shorts is working well (and specifically) for me:

  • Each episode is self-contained enough for me to feel entertained and satisfied when I turn off my Kindle.  There aren’t any cliffhangers – sure, there are points to speculate about in each episode, but there is no “To Be Continued…” kind of ending.   
  • The weekly gap between episodes feels right.  I’ll caveat that by saying this may be due to the fact I’m not invested enough in the overall story or characters to the extent that I feel I *must* know what happens next. I do like the recurring characters, especially Harry Wilson and Hart Schmidt, but I don’t feel short-changed if they don’t show up in an episode.
  • The time commitment works.  They’re not ultra-short stories (though the length varies), but I know I don’t have to find a spare hour in my day to finish the story.  
  • Most importantly, the price feels right – £0.63 (or £0.64 for the latter ones (I’ve no idea why the 1p increase but I’m guessing the exchange rate, boo). 

Which brings me to the price point question. The good old “coffee v an ebook” price debate made its rounds a couple of months ago, but we won’t go into that.  I think the not-very-helpful answer is that the “right” price point for me as a reader is the point at which I feel I get value for money, which in turn is tied to how much enjoyment I get out from the story (and I have some thoughts on that and recent self-pubbed releases by auto-buy authors… but that would be another post).  That’s a rather vague answer – talking specifics, why am I happy to pay £0.63 for each Scalzi episode?

I can’t help comparing the price of a short story to that of an anthology – take John Joseph Adams’ THE MAD SCIENTIST’S GUIDE TO WORLD DOMINATION anthology for example.  It retails on Amazon UK for £7.20 and has 22 short stories in it – I make that 33p each.  Jonathan Strachan’s UNDER MY HAT, which I mentioned above, is £7 for 18 stories, so again approximately 38p each.  So each story is half the price of the Scalzi series, but on the other hand, I know I’ll have hits and misses with an anthology. I’m not going to love every story in this book; heck, I may not even like any of them.

With the Scalzi shorts, I know I like his writing and he’s been consistent.  For 13 episodes, I’m paying around £8.30* – that’s more expensive than a mass-market paperback, but probably what I would pay for a hardcover (including discounts).  And THE HUMAN DIVISION is being released as a hardcover at the end of the serial run, so I don’t feel short-changed, even for the shorter episodes.  If it was £0.99 an episode, I think I would hesitate because of cost – that’s 3x the cost of a short story in an anthology.

The other point I was thinking about was if an SF serial works for me, would it would work for another genre, such as romance? 

17660428I find it hard to imagine a romance novel published serially in such a way that would leave me feeling satisfied after each installment, yet with a HEA that I would believe in.   I did notice Eloisa James is doing an online serial for her new novella(?) WITH THIS KISS – it looks as though it’s £0.99 for each installment (three in total) or £4.49 for the entire book AS YOU WISH, which will also include a previously-published e-short.  I’m hesitating – partly because I’m not sure if the length will be right for £0.99, but also because I’m thinking cliffhanger-type endings based on the descriptions.  I’m looking forward to seeing how successful it is, though.

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Update 28 May:

  • I still haven’t bought Eloisa James’ serialised story, and that’s really due to pricing.  As much as I love her writing,  I’m balking at the price for three short stories, which (based on Goodreads reviews) aren’t complete stories in themselves – it sounds like one story split into three, which is slightly different to the Scalzi serialisation. I’m not saying never – I may feel like an EJ fix one day, and decide to splash out on it, but it’d be a special occasion kind of purchase.
  • I finished THE HUMAN DIVISION and liked it well enough (I rated the majority of the shorts 3 stars on GRs, with a couple of 4s, IIRC) – would I buy the second “season”?  It’s interesting, because I don’t think I would have bought the hardcover of THD (John Scalzi’s more of a wait-for-the-paperback-release kind of author for me), but that’s essentially what I ended up doing by signing up to the serialised version.  I probably would buy the next serialisation, just because I thought it was good value for money.  However, I would have answered differently if you had asked me the same question back in April – see next (and final) point.  
  • I was annoyed when it was announced that the hardback version of THE HUMAN DIVISION would have exclusive extras not available to the purchasers of the online serial, but held my peace.  Obviously I didn’t feel strongly enough about THD to blog about it, though I have posted previously about my feelings when “extras” are only available in either hardcover or mass market paperback (hint: it really annoys me).  However, the fact that Tor is now offering the additional shorts for free a couple of months after the hardcover release makes me a lot happier – I would have voted with my cash otherwise (as I’ve done when publishers have offered exclusive content specific to certain formats) and not bought the sequel.

So, your thoughts – do serialised releases work for you or not?  Did you buy either (or both) of the John Scalzi or Eloisa James serials?  

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*One could also argue we get 13 pieces of cover art for the serialised version. Or that editing 20 short stories written by 20 different authors is more overhead than editing 20 short stories by a single author. I don’t know.

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Self-Pubs (Current and Ex)

It’s no secret that I really like how e-publishing has given so many more authors the ability to put their stories out in the world without having to go down the traditional publishing route.  I don’t deny that there are quality issues out there (it’s “buyer beware” and I’ve definitely been bitten a couple of times), but on the other hand, I’ve read (and loved) stories that I may never have encountered had they been written ten years ago because agents and/or editors didn’t think there was a market for them.

Here are a couple of self-pubbed books that fall into that category (though one is no longer a self-pub!).

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17619479I was in the mood for military SF, and Marko Kloos‘s TERMS OF ENLISTMENT was mentioned in a self-pubbed recs post on Sherwood Smith’s blog – I picked it up and ending up really liking it.

My three-sentence review on Goodreads:

Picked this up following a rec from Sherwood Smith’s LJ and have no regrets. Fast-paced read, compelling story-telling, and certainly came across as authentic MilSF. The relationship strand struck me as a bit weak, but that aside, I’m hoping we get a next book to find out what happens next.

If you want a proper review, Jan posted her review of TERMS OF ENLISTMENT @ Notes from a Readerholic (yes – I did the pushing).  The author was planning on releasing its sequel LINES OF DEPARTURE this month (although TERMS works as a standalone), and I was looking forward to it. 

But – Mr Kloos has just announced a book deal with Amazon’s 47North imprint, which is fantastic news.  I thought the book was great, and this means it’ll be available to a much larger audience (and the 47North version is now available on Amazon).  The not-so-good news for readers like me is that the sequel has been pushed back to early 2014.

I’m thrilled for the author, but it’s going to be a loooong wait.

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If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll see that I finally got around to reading SU Pacat‘s CAPTIVE PRINCE Volumes 1 and 2 (kind of hard to categorise, but I’ll go for m/m fantasy romance).  These books caused a bit of a buzz around the internets (or at least on the blogs I frequent) a month or so ago now – as is the norm, the hype convinced me to buy the first book, but put me off actually reading them until now.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve picked them up, all I can do is add to the hype and say I loved them.  I will say they’re not for everyone (I’m not joking about my trigger warnings mention below), but it’s the sort of story that lingered in my mind for days after I finished the books.  The story’s available as a free read on the author’s LJ, so you can give her writing a whirl before committing.

Here’s what I posted on Goodreads about them:

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Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1)Captive Prince: Volume One by S.U. Pacat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I listed trigger warnings, I dread to think what the list would be like for the first half of this book… so take that as fair warning.

However, I ended up really falling for this story – it starts off a bit uneven (and there are definitely some problematic bits), but once I got into it, I couldn’t put the book down. Layers and layers of intrigue and politics, plus a very complicated (and compelling) relationship – I dived into the next book immediately after finishing this.

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Captive Prince: Volume Two (Captive Prince, #2)Captive Prince: Volume Two by S.U. Pacat

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A supremely satisfying story – we move out of the Veretian court to their borders, but while the political intrigue and treachery remain as present as ever amidst the preparation for war, the story is really about Damen/Laurent’s relationship. Talk about unresolved sexual tension – this probably sets the benchmark for best use of UST ever.

The ending was of the good cliffhanger kind – I’m very impatiently waiting for the third and final volume.

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Have you come across any self-pubbed gems* recently?  Tell me!

* You all know my Andrea K Höst weakness, so really, read that as any other self-pubbed authors apart from Ms Höst.

Books for May

May = TWO Bank Holiday weekends.  And these new releases.  What’s not to love?

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12106940Charlaine Harris‘s DEAD EVER AFTER (urban fantasy): The final Sookie Stackhouse book.  It feels a bit like the end of an era; Sookie was one of the first UF heroines out there, and I still remember devouring the first few Bon Temps books when I first stumbled across them.  But if I’m honest, it also feels like Charlaine Harris has run out of steam in the more recent books, so I’m more than ready for Sookie’s story to come to an end.  I’m avoiding spoilers, BTW (or at least trying to), but I’m also trying to prepare myself based on the rumours.

Sookie Stackhouse has one last adventure in store.

Life has taken her from a waitress in Merlotte’s Bar, Bon Temps, to part owner; from social outcast to the heart of her community; from a vampire’s girlfriend to the wife of one of the most powerful vampires in the state. She has survived earthquakes, revolutions and attempts on her life. Sookie has endured betrayal, heartbreak and grief… and she has emerged a little stronger, and little wiser, every time.

But with life comes new trials…

The question is, in the end: who will love, who will live, and who will be dead ever after?

Sookie finds it easy to turn down the request of former barmaid Arlene when she wants her job back at Merlotte’s. After all, Arlene tried to have Sookie killed. But her relationship with Eric Northman is not so clearcut. He and his vampires are keeping their distance…and a cold silence. And when Sookie learns the reason why, she is devastated. Then a shocking murder rocks Bon Temps, and Sookie is arrested for the crime.  But the evidence against Sookie is weak, and she makes bail. Investigating the killing, she’ll learn that what passes for truth in Bon Temps is only a convenient lie. What passes for justice is more spilled blood. And what passes for love is never enough…

Out May 7

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13108289Eloisa James‘s ONCE UPON A TOWER (historical romance): Eloisa James is an auto-buy author for me, so a definite yes to this one, even though I haven’t been reading that much historical romance lately. Having said that, I’ve just bought Tessa Dare’s novella ONCE UPON A WINTER’S EVE as it was only £0.40.  I need to watch that impulse buy thing.

Once upon a time…

A duke fell in love

Gowan Stoughton of Craigievar, Duke of Kinross, values order and self-control above all else. So when he meets a lady as serene as she is  beautiful, he promptly asks for her hand in marriage.

With a lady

Edie—whose passionate temperament is the opposite of serene—had such a high fever at her own debut ball that she didn’t notice anyone, not even the notoriously elusive Duke of Kinross. When her father accepts his offer… she panics.

And when their marriage night isn’t all it could be, she pretends.

In a tower.

But Edie’s inability to hide her feelings makes pretending impossible, and when their marriage implodes, she retreats to a tower—locking Gowan out.

Now Gowan faces his greatest challenge. Neither commands nor reason work with his spirited young bride. How can he convince her to give him the keys to the tower…

When she already has the keys to his heart?

Out May 28

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17453991Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold‘s DEATH BY SILVER (LGBT fantasy/mystery): Hilcia’s review @ Impressions of a Reader piqued my interest – it sounds right up my alley.

His practice newly established, metaphysician Ned Mathey can’t afford to turn away any clients. But the latest Londoner to seek Ned’s magical aid gives him pause: Mr Edgar Nevett, an arrogant banker, is the father of the bully who made Ned’s life hell at boarding school. Nevertheless, Ned accepts the commission to ensure the Nevett family silver bears no ancient or modern curses, and then prepares to banish the Nevett family to unpleasant memory again. Until Edgar Nevett is killed by an enchanted silver candlestick—one of the pieces Ned declared magically harmless.

Calling on his old school friend Julian Lynes—private detective and another victim of the younger Nevett—Ned races to solve the murder, clear the stain on his professional reputation, and lay to rest the ghosts of his past.

Assisted by Ned’s able secretary Miss Frost, who has unexpected metaphysical skills of her own, Ned and Julian explore London’s criminal underworld and sodomitical demimonde, uncover secrets and scandals, confront the unexpected murderer and the mysteries of their own relationship.

In Death by Silver, veteran authors Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold introduce a Victorian London where magic works, influencing every aspect of civilized life, and two very appealing detectives.

Out May 25

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16130663FEARSOME JOURNEYS edited by Jonathan Strachan (fantasy): Jonathan Strachan describes FEARSOME JOURNEYS as “…an anthology of adventure fantasy, with a slight emphasis on military fantasy and swords and sorcery” (and has the full table of contents at his blog).  It sounds fantastic, with a great mix of new-to-me authors and familiar names.

An amazing array of the most popular and exciting names in Fantasy are set to appear in the first in a brand new series of Fantasy anthologies featuring original fiction, from the master editor Jonathan Strahan. The authors appearing in the launch volume include Trudi Canavan, Elizabeth Bear, Daniel Abraham, Kate Elliott, Saladin Ahmed, Glen Cook, Scott Lynch, Ellen Klages, Ellen Kushner & Ysabeau Wilce, Jeffrey Ford, Robert Redick and KJ Parker.

Out May 28

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ETA: Totally forgot to add this digital-only release from Entangled Publishing!

WHEN HONEY GOT MARRIED by Kimberly Lang, Anna Cleary, Kelly Hunter, and Ally Blake (contemporary romance): I wasn’t expecting anything new from Kelly Hunter so soon, so finding out she was a contributor in this anthology was an excellent surprise (and I’ve already bought and finished the book). It’s the romance equivalent of a shared-world anthology (I’m pretty sure there’s a specific term for it, but can’t remember for the life of me) – the other three authors are new-to-me, but as you’d expect, I loved Ms Hunter’s contribution and am already searching out more by Ally Blake.

Four high school friends and a high society bride reunite to celebrate the wedding of the year with the sexy, successful men who steal their hearts and set their skin aflame… A wedding planner should never mix business and pleasure, but Grace couldn’t resist breaking rule number one for a hot night with her high school crush!

Eve hoped to make one last play for the groom-who-got-away…but instead the down-on-her-romantic-luck actress instead found herself in dark corners with his successful, seductive cousin.

The sister of the bride needed a date of convenience and who better than her hazel-eyed, mysterious co-worker? If only Nina could keep her hands off his perfect body until she learned his true identity…

The groom proposed to her eight years earlier, but it was the steamy kiss that Pippa shared with his brother the night she left town that haunted her memories.  Now she’s back and sharing much more than just kisses.

Nothing was going to ruin Honey’s wedding to the man of her dreams.  And she has just the wedding surprise for her beloved groom!

Out now