Poetry: The Kid

Happy 85th birthday, Cormac McCarthy. 85 years. What a genius.

The video here is me reading my poem, “The Kid,” inspired by his novel Blood Meridian. One of my favorite horror stories of all time, although it usually isn’t classified as horror. To me, it certainly is. What else would you call a novel about a gang of ex-Army scalp hunters gone rogue during the Mexican-American War?

It is my belief that poetry should be heard, not read, and while mine isn’t that good, it’s a form of writing I’m constantly trying to practice and improve. Take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments.

Poetry: The Barghest’s Revenge

I.

The Barghest rose from stirring gloom
Through creeping shadows of my room
The dangling keys about his wrists
Like tiny bells foretelling doom.

O’er to my bed he slithered, black
His skin mottled like mordant wax
All tufts of hair in ancient cysts
Sprouting from nose, toes, ears, and back.

With a voice smooth as mercury
Thus he whispered, musically
“Find you the door that matches this,”
And in his hand offered a key.

The toothed, black spindle in his palm
Was twisted, sharp, nine inches long.
Heavy as ages in my grip,
It filled my ears with eldritch song.

“Go you to Edinburgh, my dear,”
The monster said into my ear
“In Robert’s Close, when moonlight-kiss’d
By his name, you must dig near.”

“There you will find a secret trove
Buried ‘neath the roots and bones
With this key I to you inflict
The chance to see your sweet love, Rose.”

I did not ask him what he meant
I did not call him when he went
Drifting like some poisonous mist
To dissipate into the vent.

A year had passed since Rose’s death
Nights I spent whoring, whiskey-vexed
Her shape was still equally missed
On unwashed sheets only half dressed.

For every love has its goodbye
All bright flowers wither and die
Time and death, we cannot resist
And sirens stir in the decline.

 

II.

I left my silver weapons home
‘Twas ten good years since they had shone
Our land dreaming and safe adrift
At last its final devils gone.

We cleansed the highlands and the low
Purged clear loch to Roman stone
Bags of copper spilled through our fists
With not a monster left to roam.

The last ones fled, or hid, or died
I can still hear every black cry
Those loathing hexes, gravely hissed
The Barghests’ were no milder kind.

And now I traveled those same roads
Until that Royal Mile I strode
Robert’s Close, could such place exist?
The cobbles cursed under my brogues.

In Grassmarket, at last I found
An alleyway, all spectral-bound
A name was written in dark script
Of a prince who’d never been crowned.

I scored a shovel for my work
In rusted iron, solace lurked
Imagining my future tryst
I staked it in the hardened earth.

Three feet deep, lay a small casket
A crude, wicker, coffin-basket
Its hard shell made my shovel slip
I kneeled down and unlatched it.

Inside the box, a woman’s skull
But no, not human, not at all
The fangs, the hair, those silver wisps
All bound within a crown of awls.

 

III.

The Barghest rasped into my ear
“How could they bury my love here?
Give her a grave as poor as this?
Monster hunter, it was but fear.”

“During your righteous purge for men
You toxified my family’s den
Never will my wife part her lips
To sing our babes asleep again.”

“See you why I had to infect her?
Why your Rose never got better?
The great trouble with fairness is
Blood for blood just makes us wetter.”

Oh how I raged, debased, and howled
I slashed them, punched them, kicked, and scowled
But my foe had returned to mist
I lay amidst a leering crowd.

I was street-side, covered in filth
A madman preaching madmen’s ilk
I closed my eyes and reminisced
As watchmen drove me up the hill.

Now in my cell, dank, black, and bare
I can taste the old, piss-sour air
I dream of secret doors promised
And retch at demons hidden there.

‘Lurk’ BookBub Post-Mortem: How I Quadrupled My Sales and Doubled My Reviews in 30 Days

Hey friends. This is a breakdown (for educational purposes) about the outcomes of my recent free book promotion with BookBub for Lurk. It will probably not be of interest to you unless you’re a self-published or small press author, thinking about becoming a self-published or small press author, or are just really really into the process of marketing books (if the last one is you, you’re sick).

After about 30 days, the steady flow of reviews, KENP page reads, ebook and paperback sales is finally starting to peter off back down to my normal, pre-promotion levels, so I thought I would do a quick post-mortem to show how exposure really is everything, and that even giving away your ebook to thousands of people can be a huge boon to sales and visibility.

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Thankfully, not this.

The Promotion

Back in August, I was accepted to BookBub’s promotion newsletter for my first novel, Lurk. At the time, Lurk had seen some moderate success, but was still mostly unknown. I’d sold about 1,000 copies across all media, long since made back my initial $1500 investment in cover art + editing + promotion, and was taking in about $250-350 a month in combined royalties (ebook, paperback, audiobook, and KENP). Some authors may not wish to discuss sales and income but since my sales are pretty pathetic, and the purpose of this post is transparency, I don’t mind. When I was accepted for BookBub, the book had 26 reviews on Amazon, around 40 text reviews on Goodreads, and 100~ish ratings on Audible (my main source of sales).

I made my book free for five days. The BookBub promotion was on the first free day. For a free book promotion in the horror category, BookBub charged me $160 dollars. I opted for the free promotion rather than a $.99 or $1.99 promotion both because it was much cheaper, and because my main goal was not sales but exposure. I just wanted to get my book on as many people’s Kindles as possible, as I was confident that once most started reading it, they would be hooked and want to finish.

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26,000???!

The Initial Results

More than 26,000 people downloaded the book in the first three days of the free promotion. Reviews began flooding in almost instantly, most of them positive, some glowing – one lady said she thought I was Stephen King writing under a new pseudonym (she was being super nice, but that felt pretty good). Lurk reached the number one spot in all of its categories, and the number 4 overall (free) book on the Kindle store. For a brief moment, I got a taste of the pie that the very very very most successful of you self-pubs are eating, and it was awesome. Seeing my book hit those ranks alone was worth the $160 bucks I paid for the promo.

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The Aftermath

However, the real benefit came later, from Kindle Unlimited. Lurk is in Kindle Unlimited, something I never paid much thought to before this promotion, as I was only hitting about 10k KENP pages read every month (around $40). But at the height of the promotion, and for about two weeks after, I was getting 10k pages read or close to that every day. As of writing, I am still getting around 4k per day.

Because of this massive boost, my combined royalties for the past month are going to be over $1k. That is a milestone I honestly thought I would never reach in my writing career, much less with this book. In a way it feels like winning the lottery. There are many of you out there who probably see $1k as a bad month, but I write weird books about weird shit, my audience is niche, and I’m admittedly terrible at finding it, even worse at the whole marketing thing.

The first two weeks after the sale also saw my normal ebook and paperback sales get a massive spike. At one point I was moving 10 ebooks and 3-5 paperbacks a day. Again, shit numbers for some of you, but for me, this was huge. Audiobook sales hit a snag, though, which is interesting. A bunch of people who got the book for free during the promotion downloaded the audiobook through Whispersync, and maybe that particular well has gone dry, because the past month has been the worst for my audiobook sales since I released Lurk on Audible. Not complaining, but it is interesting.

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You knew this post would contain at least one Bryce Dallas Howard…

How Did This Promo Affect My Reviews?

As for reader reviews, that magic, ever-elusive phenomenon we all know is worth more to us than all the BookBub promotions under the sun – Lurk * currently has 65 reviews on Amazon, most of them verified. I’m a little bit peeved the top review is a 3-star review that talks about plot holes/character inconsistencies that are resolved in the first chapter … but I digress.

The vast majority of the new reviews on Amazon have been four and five stars. Lurk is currently sitting at around 300 ratings and 70 reviews on Goodreads. Goodreads in general is a bit of a tougher crowd, and the spread of positive to negative reviews is a little wider there. Still mostly positive, although I have seen some interesting trends on there that I haven’t seen on Amazon (like a few people one or two-starring several different editions of the book at once to lower its score).

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Beep beep, Ritchie

Conclusion

My conclusion is that the BookBub promo, if you can get it, is a massive boon to helping your book find its audience. I made back my $160 investment for the free promotion more than six-fold, got a ton of new reviews, and am extremely happy with the outcome of this promotion. It’s a myth to say that nothing good can come from giving away your book for free. I wonder how my results would’ve differed if I’d asked for a buck instead of nothing during the promotion, but I’m content enough with the results to not really care.

Dab of Darkness reviews ‘Corruption’

Corruption, the first book in my dark fantasy series “The Corruption Cycle,” is finally getting some reviews. This latest one from Dab of Darkness is my favorite one yet. Dab reviewed Lurk, too. There’s also a fun interview after the review in which I get to talk about bed bugs, Gene Wolfe, and other random stuff. One minor quibble: his name is Rat Keeper, not Rat Catcher 😅

Read the full review + interview here.

It Doesn’t Bother Me If You Hate My Books

My first novel, Lurk is having a bit of a second wind right now thanks to a recent email promotion through BookBub, the largest book promoting service on the Internet. In a single day, more than 25,000 people downloaded Lurk to their Kindle devices. The book’s reviews on Amazon and Goodreads doubled in number, and it received a massive sales spike which is still going strong – at one point, it was the #1 book on Amazon.

With that kind of exposure, the book is obviously receiving a ton of new criticism. The vast majority of ratings and reviews have been good. But, as is to be expected, a number have been bad, or outright damning. I’ve received plenty of hate for the other stuff I’ve written, in my novels and at my day job; but, due to the current spotlight on Lurk, that book will be the topic of this post. I think anything I say here will probably apply to all of my work, though, as haters are just part of the game. Anyone who writes stories learns early on that they will not be successful without thick skin. No story is going to grab everyone, and no matter what you write or how you write it, in 2017 there is always going to be someone who is offended.

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This image will piss off at least one of you.

Lurk may be unique in that it has attracted a certain kind of hater – like the girl who two-starred it twice on Goodreads to lower the score and then riddled both of her reviews with spoilers about the end of the story, or the totally woke guy who called the main character “gross”  (thank you for that deep insight), or the other woke guy who one-starred it after reading ten pages because something about “nice guy syndrome” and him not liking books where the female characters are attractive.

It’s generally considered bad form for an author to respond directly to his critics. But in this case, I think it’s valid. If you didn’t finish a book and then go on to trash it, you’re not writing criticism. If you finished a book, but didn’t think critically about what the author had to say, or willfully misrepresent what the story was about to push a political view, you’re not writing criticism. And while it doesn’t bother me personally if you loved my book, hated it, put it on your mantle or wipe your ass with it, it is unfair to other readers to pretend to be writing good-faith criticism when what you’re actually doing is having what is called a knee-jerk reaction.

**Spoilers may follow, so if you haven’t read the book, continue at your peril.**

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Apparently, of some, this is too much to ask.

I always knew there was going to be a certain subset of readers who would hate Lurk. I knew there would be a small, but vocal percentage of readers who would throw the book down in anger, and even a few who would push through to the end simply for the bragging rights of giving it a scathing one-star rating for being too sexist, or too similar to the stuff they read on /r/niceguys, or my favorite – too “creepy.” I have spent enough time observing people like this in the great online jungle that I feel confident making some observations about their taste in books.

This subset of reader tends to only let themselves enjoy books that brazenly advertise an ultra-feminist, leftist, inclusive worldview, because it validates their own personal beliefs. They tend to discard and even malign books or other forms of entertainment that run counter to that, often in a knee-jerk, “look at me” fashion on social media, sometimes in mobs, always with snapping fingers. And this is an endless source of amusement and irony to me…

…because Lurk actually affirms that worldview.

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“A Goodreads Hater Writes a Review” – 2017, colorized

The most common criticism of the story that I see from these haters is about Drew: that he’s too unlikable, too unforgivable, too much like the guys they likely spend too much time talking down to and talking about in their clickbait bubbles online. But anyone who finishes this book and spends more than a minute thinking about it without blowing a gasket should be able to see pretty easily that Drew is the villain. That’s the moral of the story: that it’s not cool to be like Drew, and that the ideas and behaviors Drew escapes into and then later doubles down on, most importantly blaming others for his unhappiness, lead him to become a bad person. 

Drew is not the hero of Lurk.

Bea is the hero, and not only that – she is a woman of color in science. Bea is the actor who drives the majority of the plot forward, not Drew. Bea is the one who does something when something drastic needs to be done. When the forces of the story act upon her, she reacts in equal or greater fashion, as opposed to Drew, who for the most part passively accepts what is happening and is steered by the story’s events into a place, which, not to spoil things, is definitely not good. Bea has magnitudes more agency than Drew, and she was written that way on purpose, because she is Drew’s foil.

If you somehow missed this, I would encourage you to revisit Lurk and read it a little more carefully.

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“1 star, DNF”

I didn’t write Bea, or Drew the way I did to check boxes or push an agenda. Lurk to me is a story about an idea, and these two characters became the voices through which I saw fit to explore it. I am not claiming that I was always, 100% successful, only that the intent I had was something more than to become a shock jockey and write disgusting shit just for the lols.

There are plenty of fair criticisms one could make of Lurk. I am under no illusions that it is a perfect book. I think it is a good book that serves its purpose to sufficiently scare and engage most readers who find the whole “The Shining in a college party house” thing intriguing enough to pick it up. But it is probably not the best book I will ever write. It was my first novel, a trial by error, but it is a story I am proud of and that many readers have found value in.

Lurk has been successful for an indie book – just this year, I’ve sold over ten times what the average self-published book sells, and that’s after recouping my expenses. Whether the book was successful in delivering on its premise, I can’t say. I like to think so, but it’s not up to me. I’ve given it to the world and moved onto writing other stories. I like writing about villains, weirdos, creeps, and the fringes of humanity, because that is what fascinates me, so if Lurk was up your alley – great! Expect more of that in the future. 

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Me eating your hate.

However, if your conclusion upon finishing Lurk, or not finishing it, is that the point of this story is that I think hurting animals is cool, or that resenting women is cool, or that projecting your insecurities onto other people is cool, or that being a hateful bag of shit like Drew Brady is cool, or that I endorse any of these things as opposed to literally having written the book on why they don’t pay off…

Don’t worry too much – I’m sure this wasn’t the most important point you missed today.