Posted in Publishing

James Patterson’s BookShots and the Future of Novellas

There’s a commercial that’s been showing up occasionally when I watch television. It’s for James Patterson’s BookShots. Patterson is really the only author whose work I’ve regularly seen marketed through TV commercials, so it didn’t surprise me to see his books advertised during regularly scheduled broadcasting. But this wasn’t a new middle school title or a high-octane thriller. It was for BookShots.

What’s BookShots? According to The New York Times, it’s “a new line of short and propulsive novels that cost less than $5 and can be read in a single sitting.” Each BookShot will be less than 150 pages.

They sound a bit like novellas, don’t they? That’s because they are. But the big difference is that Patterson’s BookShots are novellas with a big name author and publisher behind them.  It’s also worth noting that both the print and eBook versions will sell for less than $5. That’s the first time that I’ve seen similar prices for eBooks and their paperback counterparts.

Consider Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series for comparison. The eBook version of those novellas cost around $2.99, but the paperback versions are in the neighborhood of $12. Whereas Patterson’s and Andrew Holmes’s Hunted BookShot is available to pre-order for $4.99 as a paperback and $3.99 as an eBook.

When I first realized that BookShots were just novellas with a new, catchy name, it frustrated me. Did the publishing industry really think they need to rebrand novellas to sell them? Novellas have been selling like hotcakes as eBooks for years. They’re a staple of self-publishing, in every genre. Tor Publishing has started putting out a line of novellas, and romance publishers have been selling novellas for years.

But then I read The New York Times article about BookShots. It outlined goals like selling them in places that don’t traditionally sell books–such as supermarkets and drugs stores–and to break into a new population of readers who don’t typically read but will pick up a short, 150 page book.

Attaching James Patterson’s name to this novella line adds a level of recognition. People know who Patterson is, and they’re more likely to pick up a book with his name on the cover than one with an unknown (to them) author.

There’s a lot riding on these books. Because if they do well, then more big publishers will start seriously look at novellas. Not just as eBooks or ancillary content for existing series, but as stand alones or as their own series. That’s exciting. It could open a huge (new) market for writers.

I’m crossing my fingers that BookShots take off. Not just for Patterson, but for me and other writers. It has huge potential to bring novellas into the mainstream. And it could be wonderful for publishing and readers.


Posted in Writing Life

My Goals for June & July

June and July are going to be pretty hectic months for me. I’m moving to Charlotte, North Carolina halfway through July, and June is going to be spent handling all the odds and ends that need to be done before the actual move. Like getting renter’s insurance. And packing up my books and movies and everything else I’ve accumulated over the years.

But even while getting all those things done, I still want to get writing (and reading) accomplished before the move. Desiree over at InkyTavern wrote a pretty neat post outlining her Summer Goals as a way to keep herself accountable for working towards them. So I decided to write a similar post with my Goals for June and July.

1. Finish Bay View Outbreak, Part 2
I’ve divided the Bay View Outbreak novella into four parts and began Part 2 at the end of April. It’s about four scenes away from being done. But since I’ve been working on it for so long (and originally planned on finishing it by the end of May), I’m getting to the point in  the draft where I’m ready to be DONE. So my self-imposed deadline to finish it is July 4th.

2. Finish and Edit Chapter 1 of WolfsBane Moon  for the Collaborative Writing Challenge
In my infinite wisdom, I decided to sign up for the next round of the Collaborative Writing Challenge. That means I also thought it was a good idea to submit a potential Chapter 1 for consideration by the editors (and hopefully other writers). The first draft is about 2/3 done. It needs to be submitted by June 30th, so that’s my deadline.

3. Write Chapter 16 of The Map for the Collaborative Writing Challenge
My next assigned chapter for The Map is Chapter 16, and I get to write that next week (June 10-14). That means figuring out what’s happened in the plot so far, what questions need to be answered, and what should happen next. Then I need to write it. It’s going to be fun. And challenging.

4. Write, Edit, and Post 4 Blog Posts
Posts have come out pretty regularly on this blog since the beginning of the year, except for the last couple of weeks. My other blog, Boston to Charlotte, has been a bit neglected. So I want to give equal attention to both blogs over the coming months. That means publishing at least two blog posts for each one.

5. Finish Edits on The Shed
I wrote the first draft of The Shed last summer for a magazine’s call for submissions. It wasn’t ready to be submitted then, so I let it sit for a while before doing a complete rewrite. I’ve started (but not yet finished) the next rounds of edits. I’d like to get them done before the move so there’s one less stack of paper to keep track of between here and North Carolina.

Do you have anything that you’re hoping to get accomplished over the next few months? Let me know down in the comments.

Posted in Writerly Advice

4 Things I Learned about Character from Video Games (Minecraft StoryMode)

Characters show up everywhere, and each time they offer an opportunity to learn more about how they work. Or don’t. Even the dorky dad in an allergy commercial is a learning opportunity.

That’s the mindset I got into when I played Telltale Games’ Minecraft Story Mode. And the game presented me with quite a few things to think about when I create my own characters.

  1. Sometimes you don’t make adult/good decisions
    The characters that populate my fiction are (by and large) responsible and grownup. They pay their bills on time, never sleep through their alarm, and refuse to lie. That stuff is boring. A character who picks fights with drunks twice their size is more interesting. As is a character who sets fire to a competitor’s contest entry because they’re determined to win at all costs.
  2. You can do your best and still screw up
    There’s an expectation that when a person does their best, everything will work out. It’s a common enough theme in inspirational stories and ones intended to motivate. But real life doesn’t typically work that way. People can do their best in anything–rescuing a hostage, training for a boxing match, or studying for a big test–and still have things go sideways. The hostage is killed, the boxer trips, or the student studies for the wrong test. It makes for a far interesting character arc (and a more relatable one).
  3. Good guys/heroes lie with the best of intentions
    Good guys are still human, and they’re just as fallible as everyone else. More than a few movies, books, and video games explore this concept. However, examining a hero lying with the best of intentions is not something that I’ve seen much. And I think it’s interesting. Can a hero who tells a lie because he believes it will keep everyone safe still be a hero? What happens to the hero if their lie is uncovered? Those are fascinating questions that I’d love to try answering.
  4. Break the rules and don’t worry about the consequences
    Rule-breakers are pretty common, and they don’t always give much thought to the consequences of their actions. That’s not to say they don’t get in trouble for breaking the rules. It’s just that they want whatever the rule is blocking more than they’re worried about the consequences. Disregard for the rules–whether all the time or in certain situations–can get characters into interesting situations. Ones that readers will absolutely enjoy reading, and I’d love to write.

These things made for interesting characters in Minecraft StoryMode, and I have no doubt that they’ll help me to create more life-like (and hopefully compelling) characters in my own writing.

What kinds of things have you learned about writing from playing video games? Or even from watching movies or reading books?


Posted in Writing Life

On Not Having a Writing Routine

Right now, I’m lucky if I sit down once a week to work on fiction. I typically snag an hour or two of writing time on Thursday night depending on when I’m scheduled to work Friday morning. But then I’m constantly battling distractions like the television, family and dogs, and the internet, and I usually only get a few hundred words on the page.

This isn’t the most efficient way to write. I’ve been working on the same novelette project since the beginning of January, which theoretically should have been finished by the end of February.

What I need is a regular writing routine, where I sit down at a certain time each night and focus on writing for an hour. It worked during my senior year of college when I decided to stop waiting for time to write. Sure it was tough the first couple of sessions as I trained my brain and the muse to work on-demand. But after that, the words flowed. I regularly produced a thousand words each session.

I’d very much like to get back to that kind of a routine. However my current schedule is too variable for me to commit to writing every night at say 7 PM. Between my job in retail, my regular freelance writing deadlines, and being on-call to cover town government meetings twice a week, one day looks nothing like the next. And sometimes I don’t even know how a day is going to unfold until it’s already here.

This isn’t how my life is going to be forever. In fact, I only a have a few more months of this particular weird-as-butt schedule until I trade it for a new one when I move to North Carolina. So I’m just going to keep plugging away, stealing an hour whenever I can to sit down at the computer and write. And I’ll be daydreaming of a regular schedule that lends itself to a writing routine.


Posted in Writing Life

How to Write a Brilliant Blog Post (According to Sarah)

Step 1: Come up with a brilliant idea (typically last thing before bed) and decide not to write it down.

Step 2: Sit down the next day (or the day after) and write this brilliant blog post.

Step 3: Realize the brilliant blog post isn’t coming out as fantastic as I thought.

Step 4: Decide to scrap the brilliant blog post because it’s boring to write and will a snorefest for readers.

Step 5: Watch the weekdays tick past, and think that there’s no time to write an adequate post because of work commitments.

Step 6: Try to throw a passable post together about books only to realize I wrote a post about books recently.

Step 7: Panic.

Step 8: Write a post about writing blog posts.

Step 9: Include cute pictures of my dogs at the end.

Max, my first dog!
Posted in Writing Life

Where I Write

I’m always fascinated when writers post pictures of their writing space. Whether it’s a desk covered in big, green plants, a “writing shed” plopped in their back yard, or an empty table in the corner of Starbucks, that space is the magic area where which epic stories are fabricated.

So I decided to share where I write.

Writing Space

Those little figures sitting on the windowsill and on top of the desk are part of my ever-growing collection of Funko Pop figures. Those white pieces of paper featuring Hamilton lyrics (not that you can see them) are a pretty new addition. For my perpetually messy desk, it’s actually pretty clean at the moment. That’s not going to last long. It’s going to be covered in notebooks and legal pads and stuff-to-be-filed within a week.

What does your desk look like? If you can, share a picture in the comments or on your blog.

Posted in Writing Life

Writing (Or Not)

This has been a rough week. A really, really rough week personally and writing-wise. Writing-wise meaning that it seems like I’ve gotten almost nothing written.

So a quick recap: I’ve been trying to move from Massachusetts to Charlotte, North Carolina. However there have been a number of roadblocks: finding a job when I didn’t live in the city, apartment complexes disappearing off face of the internet, and saving up enough money to pay a whole lot of rent in advance. Then I found the perfect apartment complex and banked more than enough money to pay for a six month lease. This past Thursday, I learned that complex doesn’t lease to someone who doesn’t have a job in Charlotte.

It’s the whole “can’t find a job until I have an apartment but can’t get an apartment until I have a job” problem. Now I’m onto Plan C: apply, apply, apply to jobs until I find one not put off by me living so far away. Add that to the “what am I doing with my life?” panic about a career, and that’s a recipe for one very stressed Sarah.

Stressed Sarah does not write well, if at all.

It’s tough enough for me on a normal day to get my head into a story with the distractions of dogs and family. But when my mind is already crowded with worrying about jobs and moving and everything else, I can’t write. I can’t concentrate long enough to get the words down on the page, and I get frustrated when the word count isn’t rising fast enough. The end result is that I shut off the computer before walking away.

I’ve written my freelance articles this week. No fiction, though. At least no more than a few hundred words a session. It’s better than nothing, I know. That knowledge doesn’t do much to satisfy me.

My best guess is that there’s anxiety at play. Maybe a smattering of depression mixed-in, too. I’ve never been diagnosed with either, but there’s a history of it in my family. I’ll be seeing a doctor on Tuesday to talk about whatever’s going on. Hopefully she’ll an idea on how to get this all straightened out.

After I finish writing this post (the Friday before it goes up), I’m going to open up a short story on the computer and just start plugging away at it. I want five hundred words, but I’ll settle for half that.

Posted in Writerly Advice

Writing Zombies, Part 3

Zombies seem to have taken over my life recently. My television, the action figures next to my desk, and my current work-in-progress are practically all zombie-related. Even this blog seems to be drifting off into the living dead with this Writing Zombies series.

This is the third and final post on Writing Zombies. Though it should probably have the subtitle: The Living. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found at those link.

Who survives the initial outbreak?

It’s important to consider the types of people most likely to survive a zombie outbreak, not just in
terms of who will survive long term but who will survive the initial outbreak. First responders (like paramedics, firefighters, and police), emergency room/hospital personnel, and soldiers will probably not survive for very long during the initial outbreak. They come in contact with the infected and zombies first simply due to the nature of their jobs, responding to emergencies.

So people with jobs not directly responsible for the life and safety of others (such as in offices, at schools, or in retail) are more likely to survive the initial outbreak. They have a much smaller chance of coming in contact with an infected individual.

Who survives long term?

Once people start venturing out after the initial outbreak, a significant number of them probably won’t survive for very long. Not understanding what zombies are or how the virus is transmitted will lead to a lot of infections and deaths. But there will be people who survive from sheer dumb luck. Or simply because they refuse to venture outside.

Those survivors are not guaranteed to survive beyond that. Human beings need basic necessities like food, clean water, and shelter. So they’ll need to be adept at scavenging or hunting for those things, possibly coming against other groups which have and/or want those things. They’re also going to need weapons to protect themselves.

Yet if all of those things manage to go right, injuries and illness will still happen. Broken limbs from falls, infections from uncleaned or untreated cuts, and internal injuries like burst appendixes are deadly without the proper treatment. Plus there’s the glaring issue of medication and medical supplies. The average person isn’t going to know the proper antibiotic dosage or how to suture a wound. As mentioned before, doctors are going to be in pretty short supply.

So what kind of person is capable of all those things? Former soldiers, hunters, and survivalists seem like the obvious answers. But anyone can have those skills.

Does society rebuild? 

About half of zombie fiction (whether TV, movie, or books) keeps humans in a state of perpetual conflict with each other and with the zombies. They fight over food, shelter, and supplies. The groups that form are more like warring states clashing on a regular basis. Society as a whole never really reforms. The Walking Dead is a great example.

However the other half of the zombie genre is more optimistic. After a period of turmoil, people begin to work together and achieve their goals. They rebuild cities and downs, get a handle on how to defeat or at least manage the zombie problem, and form a new society in this changed world. Think Rot & Ruin or World War Z. Life is changed for good, but there’s a society that’s built from the ashes.

So that concludes my three part Writing Zombies series. I learned a whole lot more about my zombie writing process from these blog posts, and I hope that something in here sparked your creative juices.

Do you have any favorite zombie writing advice? And what’s your favorite zombie work?



Posted in Writerly Advice

Writing Zombies, Part 2

This is Writing Zombies, Part 2, the second post in my series on zombies. Part 1 can be found here.

Today I’m going to focus on infected zombies as opposed to other types. I’m not too familiar with the details voodoo zombies, but I’d highly recommend checking out White Zombie for a brief overview.

How does the infection spread?

It’s important to consider how the infection spreads from a zombie to a healthy person. The traditional method of through a bite, much like how rabies is transmitted. Rabies spreads when an animal infected with the rabies virus bites another animal or a person. The bite breaks the skin, allowing virus-filled saliva to enter the body. It can also be spread if the saliva simply gets into an open wound or into the eyes or mouth.

But as far as viruses go, rabies is nearly impossible to get without contact with saliva. Which means it can be pretty easily eliminated (and was in the United Kingdom). So for stories where the characters need to completely eliminate the zombie virus, transmission through bite would be the best bet.

Another effective way of getting a lot of people sick is to make the zombie virus airborne, like the flu. Experts believe that the flu virus typically spreads via droplets of mucus that the body naturally expels when a person talks, sneezes, or coughs. These droplets then end up in the noses and mouths of people up to six feet away. They might even be inhaled into a person’s lungs.

If people know about the virus, it’s easy enough to keep infected people away from healthy ones. But the virus—flu or zombie—will spread like wildfire when no one knows it’s there or its strength. And the virus can become even more problematic when people are contagious but not showing symptoms. In stories where everyone is infected, airborne transmission might work best.

What’s the process of becoming a zombie?

So what happens after a person becomes infected? There are two important things to consider: process and timeline. The process is simply what happens. So after a person is bitten, they might become violently ill. The illness kills them, and they turn into a zombie after death. Or maybe once they’re bitten, the virus sits dormant inside them until they die of natural causes, an accident, or something else.

The timeline is how long it takes for the process—from infection to zombification—to happen. To use The Walking Dead as another example, it takes about a day for a person who’s bitten to die of the infection. Then it ranges from an hour to several before they turn into a zombie. The timeline can be useful in the story to arrange for characters to come face to face with corpses suddenly coming alive.

Posted in Writerly Advice

Writing Zombies, Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about zombies recently.Something about working on a zombie outbreak novella and attending a zombie convention will do that. And as a result, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about zombie parameters. Like, do they already exist in the story universe? Or how do you kill one? Stuff I took for granted when watching TV or playing video games.

Pretty soon I had a whole list of things that I needed to figure out for my own zombies. And I started writing a post about them when I realized just how many things I wanted to talk about. So I decided to turn it into a series on Writing Zombies instead. This is Part 1. Look for Parts 2 & 3 in the coming weeks.

Do zombies already exist?

In select zombie fiction, like Rot & Ruin and White Zombie, zombies already exist. So some
characters already know how to deal with them and how to avoid becoming one. The threat of becoming one is always present in the character’s mind. But on the flip side, people can become so comfortable with zombies that they make mistakes.

The learning curve in fiction where zombies don’t exist yet is what leads to a lot of bloodshed. People who don’t know the walking corpse headed towards them aren’t going to be avoiding bites or scratches like someone who knows what those injuries can do.

Another thing to consider is whether or not zombies exist in the culture. I never thought about this one until  Walker Stalker Con. A panelists mentioned that he found it odd characters never recognize zombies for what they are.

Think about The Walking Dead, which starts chronolgically in 2010. Not once do the characters say the word zombie, and they don’t make the connection between the creatures in front of them and movies like Night of the Living Dead. It’s not necessary for there to be zombies in culture; it’s just something to think about.

What makes a zombie

Zombies come in a variety of forms. There’s the now-famous living dead form that decays incrementally if it doesn’t feed on human flesh. Then there’s the “infection” zombie which isn’t dead but goes after human flesh, and there’s the mind-controlled human zombie that’s more of a living servant. One video game even has them as mushroom-type creatures.

So the definition of zombie is pretty darn flexible. But the author or creator needs to establish those perimeters pretty early on in order to let the audience know what constitutes a zombie. Is it the decaying, reanimated corpse? Or is it the living person put under a voodoo spell?