Q & A With Robert Swartwood

The super talented Robert Swartwood just released a new e-book entitled The Calling and is doing a mini blog tour to promote it and today is his second stop. I had a few questions to ask Robert via Gmail chat, so I thought I would get the info about his book out of the way.

Description: When eighteen-year-old Christopher Myers’ parents are murdered, something is written on his bedroom door, a mark in his parents’ blood that convinces the police the killer has targeted Christopher as the next victim. To keep him safe, he travels away with his estranged grandmother and uncle to the small town of Bridgton, New York. And it’s in Bridgton that he meets an extraordinary young man who has come with his father to stop an unrelenting evil. Soon Christopher learns of the town’s deep dark secret, and how his parents’ murder was no accident, and how he has been brought to Bridgton by forces beyond his power—forces that just may threaten the destruction of all mankind.

The e-book is available at an introductory price of 99 cents from the following places:

Robert Swartwood’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review,The Daily BeastPostscriptsChiZineSpace and Time, and PANK. He is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. Visit him at www.robertswartwood.com.

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Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s my Q & A with Robert …

ZCF: I tried to think of questions you might not be asked by other people on your tour, so my first one has to do with the ins and outs of making e-books. What kind of costs did you have up front?

RS: Actually, I was fortunate. There were no costs. The cover was done by my friend Wyatt Perko, who you obviously know as he did your cover for No Shelter too. In terms of formatting, I did that myself.

ZCF: Yes, Wyatt does great work, doesn’t he? Tell me more about the formatting. I found it’s not as easy as some people think.

RS: Well, it is easy in a sense but takes a lot of time, at least for me, because I hadn’t read The Calling in a long time, I actually revised as I formatted. But the thing is, as I’ve been reading more and more e-books, I’ve become very picky when it comes to formatting. There is no standard, at least not yet. You can download twenty different samples and they’ll all have different kinds of formatting, even those done by major publishers. So for me it was a lot of trial and error over the past two years. I’ve finally come up with a format and style I think really works and comes off as professional.

ZCF: Do you find yourself turned off by books because of the formatting?

RS: You know, I really do. Again, I’ve become picky. Besides the cover art, which is obviously the first thing a potential reader sees, the formatting becomes important too. I would imagine that most readers with e-reading devices download samples first. Or maybe I just think that because that’s what I do. But I always base my purchases on the sample, and the formatting. In fact, there are times when I almost want to contact some of these writers and offer to help them with the formatting.

ZCF: You think you could start some kind of e-book formatting service?

RS: Why not? What’s a fair price? $50 an e-book? So if anyone out there is reading this and want help with their formatting, email me and we’ll talk 🙂

ZCF: So formatting and cover art is a big deal to you — and by the way, I really do love the cover for The Calling — but what are your thoughts on price? I see you currently have this new e-book priced at 99 cents. Why?

RS: I figure right now, as someone who wants to try to grow a reader base, starting out with 99 cents is the right thing to do. It’s almost a no brainer for some readers, though the market has become pretty overrun with 99 cent e-books that it seems some people begin to expect all e-books to be that price. I mean, The Calling is 100,000 words long. I have an e-book called In the Land of the Blind, which contains a 3,000-word short story as well as a sneak preview of my upcoming zombie thriller The Dishonored Dead. I sell that for the same price. Is that fair to the reader? I don’t know. In the end they can see the file size, and I say right up front in the product description just how many words the e-book contains. A lot of people think that the 99 price point hurts writers. A lot of people think that even the $2.99 price point hurts writers. But the truth is that it’s what the writer gets out of the deal that matters. Currently Amazon offers 70% royalties on e-books priced at $2.99, which earns writers more than if they had an e-book published by a major publisher priced at, say, $9.99. So here you have a lower e-book with potential to sell to more readers and at a higher royalty. It’s crazy, if you think about it.

ZCF: Do you think the 70% royalty will be around forever?

RS: I’d like to think so, but realistically probably not. Amazon is currently just trying to steal as many authors as it can away from major publishers. And why not? It’s a very enticing deal. So I figure we might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

ZCF: Will you eventually raise the price of The Calling?

RS: Definitely. Probably at the end of the month I’ll raise the price to $2.99 and see how it does then. Obviously I’ll get a higher royalty but possibly fewer sales. And right now, at this point in my career, the more sales the better. But that’s the nice thing about self-publishing: you’re free to play around with price yourself. If you were with a major publisher and asked them to lower the price, they would think you’re crazy (trust me, I’ve been there).

ZCF: Plus, if we’re talking about Amazon, the logarithm is important.

RS: Yes, most definitely. The idea is to get enough readers to buy your book so that your book appears in that customers-who-bought-this-item-also-bought part. Hell, that way Amazon practically does the marketing for you.

ZCF: But marketing is still a big deal.

RS: It’s major. It probably takes up half a writer’s time, if not more. But the thing is writers need to learn to be smart in regards to their marketing. You see some of these writers haunting the same message boards hocking the same books over and over again. It just doesn’t make sense, because the crowd there doesn’t really change. If they haven’t bought your e-book yet, then they probably aren’t going to buy it no matter how many times you remind them it’s on sale. The thing to do is just write another book and hope for the best. But, well, to each his own.

ZCF: When do you think bookstores will disappear?

RS: Not any time soon. They’ll be around, just not as many. And it’s sad, because I do like bookstores, but at the same time I can’t say I have an allegiance to them. It would be different if I had been publishing novels with a major publisher for a decade and owed my success to the men and women who sold the book. But you know, that reminds me: shelf life becomes an issue. Because the average shelf life of a book is, what, a month or two or three? And then what? Readers can only find your book online as an e-book! So you have to wonder why even bother at all.

ZCF: I know. I sometimes think this too.

RS: Speaking of which, how has No Shelter been selling?

ZCF: It’s doing okay, I guess. Like you say, marketing plays a major factor in sales, and I’m just too busy right now to really put a lot of marketing into this book.

RS: When can we expect the next book in the Holly Lin series?

ZCF: As soon as I have some free time to start writing it 🙂 Thanks for chatting, Robert, and good luck with The Calling!

RS: Thanks for having me, Z. And start writing that second book already!

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Another No Shelter Mention!

Today No Shelter got a mention at the website HTMLGiant from contributor Roxane Gay who talked about self-publishing. Here’s some of what she had to say (the bold is mine):

I recently bought a few self-published books via Amazon and other means because I have always been curious about the quality of self-published writing, particularly the writing of writers who claim they are forging this new path because their writing is simply unable to be appreciated or understood by mainstream publishing, because their writing is falling through the cracks. Only one of these booksNo Shelter, by Z. Constance Frost, was excellent—memorable and something I’ll read more than once. The book is genre fiction, not a perfect book, but I really loved it and the story totally kept me engaged. The writing was solid and it certainly held up to similar books I’ve read from mainstream publishers. Additionally, female assassins are awesome.

Yes they are! 🙂

Thanks so much to Roxane for not just mentioning my book, but actually reading it in the first place!

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No Shelter Chapter 1

Did I mention I’m now on Twitter? Yes, I am. And I’m told there’s this new thing called Sample Sunday, where writers can show a sample of their work to potential readers. So below is the first chapter of No Shelter. Enjoy! 🙂

*  *  *

My flight gets in at McCarran a few minutes before midnight. Nova picks me up in a stolen black Escalade reeking of stale cigarette smoke.

The first thing he says to me: “I know what you’re thinking and no, this isn’t stolen.”

The second thing he says to me: “You ready to kill some bad guys?”

He drives us to our temporary base of operations, a cinderblock storage garage on the outskirts of the city. Inside the garage are a table set up with computers, a card table covered with weapons, and what looks like a brand new Lincoln Town Car.

“Like it?” he asks me as we get out of the Escalade. “It’ll be your ride tonight.”

“Can’t wait.” I walk over to the card table, look at the mini-arsenal of rifles and handguns. Then I glance over at Scooter on the computer. “What’s up, handsome?”

He smiles at me, chomping away at his Bazooka Joe. “Hey, Holly, how was th-th-the flight?”

“Too short. They didn’t even serve me one of those little tiny bag of peanuts I like so much.”

Nova walks up to me, holding a manila folder. “So you want to know who the target is?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

He clears a space at the table and pulls up two stools. I take one and he hands me the manila folder. Inside are surveillance shots of a middle-aged man in a suit, balding with bushy eyebrows and glasses.

“Where’d you take these?”

“Those were taken just outside the MGM Grand.”

“That’s where he’s staying?”

Nova shakes his head. “He’s staying at the Bellagio, but he’s been making stops at all the major casinos the past week.”

I look up from the pictures, glance at Nova, then at Scooter. “Just how long have you guys been here?”

“Week and a half.”

“Walter never mentioned anything to me.”

Still typing at the computer, his back to us, Scooter says, “Th-Th-That’s because we weren’t sure yet whether we’d need you.”

“You really know how to make a girl feel special, Scooter.” I look back at the pictures. “So who’s the woman—his girlfriend?”

In almost every photograph there is a tall thin blond woman beside the target, carrying a briefcase.

“That little hottie right there,” Nova says, “is Delano’s personal assistant. Her name’s Alayna Gramont. Believe it or not, she used to be a model.”

“Is that right?”

Nodding, he says, “You better believe it.”

“Do I need to worry about her?”

“No. She won’t be there tonight.”

I nod once, give Nova a serious look. “So what’s the deal?”

He clears his throat. “The deal is he and his associates are having a party.”

“And?”

“And they’ve requested girls.”

“Of course they did,” I say. “And I just bet this guy right here—what’s his name again?”

“Roland Delano.”

“I just bet Roland Delano has a thing for Asian chicks.”

“Actually,” Scooter says, his back still to us, “the guy with the Asian fetish isn’t the target. It’s the target’s buddy.”

Nova hands me another manila folder. Inside are more surveillance shots, this one of a large black man, his head bald, wearing wrap-around shades.

“The bodyguard?”

Nova nods.

“And he’s the one that likes Asian chicks.”

He nods again.

I glance once more from Nova to Scooter, Scooter to Nova. “I’m going to be completely alone on this thing, aren’t I?”

Nova says, “At least on the inside, yeah.”

“Great.” I cross my arms, take a breath. “So what’s the plan?”

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Another new review!

The very kind and talented Steve Umstead has reviewed No Shelter — and he likes it! 🙂 He calls it “an excellent read. Fast-paced, hard to put down, full of characters the reader can truly feel for.” Thanks, Steve! You can check out the rest of his review here.

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I’d Buy That For A Dollar!

This whole e-book business is funny. For awhile there sales were decent, then they just stopped. So I’ve decided to lower the price to 99 cents for awhile. That’s one whole dollar minus a penny. Be sure to check out! The links are on the sidebar 🙂

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No Shelter in the Wind!

No Shelter is featured today at the very awesome blog Kindle in the Wind!

http://kindleinthewind.blogspot.com/2011/02/no-shelter-by-z-constance-frost.html

Also, there’s still time to enter the review contest …

https://zconstancefrost.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/no-shelter-review-contest/

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New Review!

A.M. Donovan is the first (after Robert Swartwood) to review No Shelter, and she kindly gave it five stars! She posted at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads, so her name has been added three times to the virtual hat. Here’s what she says:

This is a fast paced story that gets you right into the action.

Starts with the first mission, and shows you the characters through their actions, instead of trying to describe everything in minute detail. This is something I very much like.

This is the type of Nanny (or Parent) every child should have. Willing to do whatever it takes to keep the children safe.

The main character, Holly Lin, is not one dimensional, but has complex relationships with the family she works for, the children she cares for, her co-workers, her own family (Mother, sister) and her real job.

The action is fast and realistic. Holly gets hurt, and it shows.

But, like most of us, the greatest pain comes from betrayal by the ones we trust the most.

There are, of course, twists to the story, but (congratulations!) not all of them are predictable.

The main complications (just like in real life) come when Holly tries to do the right thing, and the unintended consequences come up to bite her.

Definitely worth the time to read.

I look forward to having another visit with Holly Lin.

If you like very strong females, then you will enjoy this.

If you prefer your females to wait for rescue, then go somewhere else.

Thanks, A.M.!

There’s still a lot of time to enter the review contest. Details here.

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