More bang for your buck

Zoë Sharp

September marks the end of the first year of my Great e-Book Experiment. I can hardly believe that only twelve months ago I had none of the backlist Charlie Fox books out there in digital format. Now I have five of the books and a short story e-thology out on Kindle, and am just about to launch into all the other e-pub formats, plus my first foray into printed editions.

It’s been a hell of a year.

For me as a writer, the real joy has been to see Charlie’s story available again right from the beginning. So many readers wanted to start at book one, and I could see their enthusiasm waning when they discovered that only collector’s first editions were available, often at mind-boggling prices.

The first e-book I put together was FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection. It was a huge, huge learning curve, during which I have many people to thank for putting up with my innumerable stupid questions. In many ways, it still IS a steep learning curve, but more on that later.

A short story anthology — which in e-book form I refer to as an e-thology in an attempt to bring the word into common usage! — was very different proposition from the first of the books themselves, however.

One of the things that immediately struck me was the layout. A traditional book often has a pre-title page (with just the book’s title on it), then the title page itself, copyright page, list of the author’s previous publications, a dedication, acknowledgements, maybe even the author biog. Only THEN do you reach the story itself.

With an e-book, where a prospective reader might well download a sample first before deciding to buy, those intro pages all eat into the sample. So I put the dedication on the title page, shifted the copyright, acknowledgements, and an extended author biog to the back of the book, but instead added a short synopsis — what would be the jacket copy on a printed book — so the reader is reminded of the story as soon as they open the file.

In addition, some brilliant writers were generous enough to do swap excerpts with me — Brett Battles, Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Timothy Hallinan, and Libby Fischer Hellmann. I put a taster of one of their books in the back of one of mine, and they did the same for me. Plus, of course, an excerpt from the next book in the Charlie Fox series, just to whet your appetite for more.

And in KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, I was also able to include the amazing Foreword by Lee Child, and my own Afterword, as well as two previously deleted scenes that I felt helped to fill out Charlie’s back story for what was to come. There’s also a short biog of the character, and the jacket copy for the other books in the series with suitable links.

In October, the next book in the series will be ready to go. Called DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, it sees Charlie facing her toughest challenge.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, a celebrity fundraising event should have been the ideal opportunity for Charlie to piece together her working relationship with Sean, who has woken from his gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. But the simple security job turns into a nightmare when an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation. Charlie is forced to improvise as never before, and this time she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back.

I’m already putting together the extras for the e-book version. And my question is, what else would you like to see in an e-book that there isn’t the space or opportunity to include in a printed book?

I’ve always loved the extras available on a DVD, and an e-book is now the literary equivalent. So, would you like insights from the author about the writing process, or asides about continuing characters giving you a little of their back story, or research notes that didn’t make the final cut? In DIE EASY, for example, I did an enormous amount of research about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, but only a fraction of that made it into — or was relevant to — the actual story. Would you like a bonus article on that?

I’m open to suggestions and fascinated to know what you all think! And I hope you’ll forgive for continuing to ask stupid questions — it’s how we learn 🙂

This week’s Word of the Week is epeolatry, meaning the worship of words. It comes from the Greek epos meaning word, and –latry meaning to worship.

I’m away this week, doing some very serious and labour-intensive research on a boat in the Mediterranean, but I’ll try to get to comments as soon as I can!


20 thoughts on “More bang for your buck

  1. Karen, NZ

    Hi Zoë,

    Asides from continuing characters
    Research about the effects of Katrina – bonus article sounds really intriguing.
    Insights from you about the writing process.

    Would LOVE all three, though as I read for characters mainly, that would have to be first, if you're making me choose. I ALWAYS want to know more about characters and their motivations.

    Thanks for asking – it's a very relevant question – lovely to be given a possible option.

    Congrats on the year in e-publishing, I still remember the absolute thrill of being one of the first to get 'Fox Five' with your generous intro offer 🙂

    I hope you get a lot out of your time away.

  2. Larry Gasper

    Zoe, you forgot to mention your latest e-article in "Making Story: Twenty-One Writers on How They Plot." I bought it last night and read your essay, as well as the ones by Stephen, Gar and Brett. It's interesting how many ways there are to approach writing a book and how a person's approach can change over time like Brett's did.
    I'd be interested in all sorts of back story about New Orleans as I was there in February and developed a fascination with the city.(a common reaction I think.) In particular anything on the Ninth Ward and how they're recovering or not recovering even all these years later.

  3. Gordon Harries

    I don’t know if the line’s still going, but I really loved the essay you used to get at the back of ‘Mortalis’ books.

    David had two books out with them that featured essays that were as nuanced as you’d expect, but so did people like Alex Carr (who published two beautiful, poetic, fractured thrillers with the line) and they were marvellous pieces that were about the process behind the book as you’d expect, but were really pieces of artistic autobiography.

    I prefer that to the 'interview' format that you've started ti see at the back of some print books. It would be one thing if said interview was deep or insighful, but the one's I've read are basically puff pieces.

  4. Lisa Alber

    Wow, Zoe, I love the list of the extras you added to book one…So then, when you asked what else we'd like to see, the first thing that popped into my head was: blooper reel! Or the literary equivalent thereof…Have no clue what that could be–maybe a funny story from your research trip to New Orleans, something like that?

    What about alternate endings like you sometimes see on DVDs?

    Process is always great. For example, you could talk about the scene in the book that was the most difficult to write, and why, and maybe even provide an excerpt from a draft of it, and what you did to revise/improve it…

  5. Sarah W

    I love research articles as extras and also articles about the choices that were made during the writing and why X was chosen over Y, because X fit the characters or the time line or was just plain cooler.

  6. David Corbett


    First, congratulations on the anniversary. May you have an endless string of same.

    I'd vote for the Katrina essay. But as a veteran of the essay-at-the-back-of-the-book-club, let me offer two bits of advice: (1) Avoid politics at all costs. (2) Don't use the essay to explain why you wrote or how you wrote some of the novel. The fiction/non-fiction membrane becomes overly permeable and some folks get very cranky about that.

    Best of luck with it, my dear.

  7. KDJames

    I'm afraid I won't be much help with this, Zoë. I'm one of those weirdos who just want to read the story. But I LOVE it that you put a synopsis/cover copy at the beginning. I wish more writers would do that. It's a huge help when I'm trying to decide what to read next, especially if it's a book by a new-to-me writer and I can't remember why I bought the book (months earlier) or even what it's about. I'd actually rather have cover copy of other books at the end too, in lieu of excerpts. Pretty sure I'm in the minority there too, so grain of salt.

    Do include buy links for all your other books. And a listing of them in proper order would be great.

    But I would actually be interested in your take on Katrina. My daughter lives in New Orleans and is working with the No Kid Hungry people there while in grad school. I feel like I get an essay about the city every other time I talk to her.

    Would also love to hear more about this labour-intensive Mediterranean "research" you're doing. 🙂

  8. Karen, NZ

    Hi Zoë,

    Pari's post earlier this week, and yours have got me thinking. What was it like researching the effects of acquired brain injury – especially as so often it's an unseen factor? How do authors decide what to leave out ? Given my interest in characters, I both gravitate to, (and avoid) stories where disability or impairment is involved. I couldn't write about it myself, too close – though I'm fascinated with how writers write about it/communicate via the story and character. I imagine it's easier with distance, though perhaps challenging (or easier?) without a lived experience of it.

    Hmmm. I'm moved to ask/comment because in the last week I
    a) watched Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability on youtube

    b) saw a very brief video of a Deaf person signing their interpretation/goal of bridging the culture gap between hearing and Deaf (who don't see themselves as having a disability) …. so much communicated without words

    c) saw 'the Glee Project' episode where (regarding a contender in a wheelchair who happens to be very attractive, and who had the physical challenge from a very young age), one writer commented (am writing this from memory) that he would write her as a sex bitch on wheels – in one way fab because it really helps challenge that assumption that people with disabilities 'don't have sex', but to go that far?

    I want to read about people who challenge stereotypes because it's one way I grow and learn.
    Sometimes it is easier to identify with aspects of a character in a book than people in real life.

    I'm interested to read how Sean and Charlie cope with the effects of his injury, as even without all the other challenges in their relationship that your writing has communicated….

    Anyway thanks for prompting me to think, and for giving me hope 🙂

    I am so grateful for writers who are willing to write about and explore very difficult issues. I think it takes an enormous amount of courage and commitment, and I figure that the urge to write must outweigh the concern about 'getting it right'? I don't know – that's why I'm asking, and that's what I'd like to read about as an 'extra' 🙂

  9. Zoë Sharp

    First of all, an apology. I was hoping to be able to get to comments on this while I was away, but the vagaries of mobile internet access defeated me―my phone may be a smart one, but sadly its owner proved less so 🙂

  10. Zoë Sharp

    First of all, an apology. I was hoping to be able to get to comments on this while I was away, but the vagaries of mobile internet access defeated me―my phone may be a smart one, but sadly its owner proved less so 🙂

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Karen

    Thank you so much for the good wishes, and yes, I did indeed get a lot out of my trip. I’m plotting as we speak …

    I was thinking of asides ‘about’ rather than asides ‘from’ the minor characters. I envisaged this as a little bit of background info for people who were new to the series, so they could find out where these characters had been seen before and what their background history was with Charlie and Sean. I hadn’t thought of getting further inside their heads. Interesting!

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Larry

    I have to confess that when I wrote this blog, before I went away, MAKING STORY was not yet published, so I thought it a bit premature to mention it. Thank you for bringing it up now!

    Sadly, the Ninth Ward does not seem to be recovering as well as might be hoped. If DIE EASY manages to highlight that in some small way, I shall be very pleased 🙂

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gordon

    I haven’t come across the essays you mention, but they sound intriguing and I shall seek some out! Thank you for the tip.

    I’m not keen on the interview extra in books, as you point out they can seem a bit lightweight.

    And David is such a prose poet I would expect nothing less of him 🙂

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lisa

    Blooper reel? Hmm, not sure about that. Writing a book is such a solitary effort while you’re actually doing it that there are very few ROFLMAO moments, sadly.

    I was originally intending to have alternative endings for THIRD STRIKE: Charlie Fox book seven―yes, no, and maybe. (Sorry, this will mean nothing to anyone who hasn’t read the book, but should make sense to those who have.) The closer I actually got to the end of the story, however, the more the ending I eventually chose seemed like the right one. Indeed, it seemed like the only one that fitted.

    I do have an Authors’ Notebook section for each book on my website, however, with brief comments about some aspect of the plot or the writing of the book itself. Perhaps I could extend this something in line with the suggestions made by yourself and Gordon …

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks, Sarah

    I’ve often wanted to discuss specific aspects of the plot, but can’t really do it anywhere it might be constitute a plot spoiler. Perhaps the back of the book concerned is the perfect place!

  16. Zoë Sharp

    Thank you, David― that’s very sweet of you 🙂

    And I envisaged a straightforward account of Katrina’s progress rather than mix it with opinion. I spent my formative scribbling years writing non-fiction articles and always tried hard to let the story tell itself rather than colour it with too much of my own POV. Besides, with something so devastating and utterly tragic, no additional dramatic licence is needed.

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi KD

    I know exactly what you mean. I download stuff faster than I can read it, and by the time I get to it, sometimes I can’t remember what the story is about, which is why I added the jacket copy synopsis to the front of the books in the first place.

    I only include an excerpt of the next book in line―the rest is jacket copy for each book. I do have Buy The Book links, and when I published the backlist e-books I added the series order to the title―ie DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten―so it’s obvious what order they go in.

    As for the Mediterranean research, it’s been tough, but somebody has to do it! All joking aside, one of my projects next year will be the first book in what I hope will be a new series, for which all this research will be highly relevant. More than that, I really can’t say … 🙂

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Karen

    It’s strange that you make the point about disabilities point, because while I was away doing my research for the new character, some kind of physical disability cropped up unexpectedly as part of this person’s make-up and I’ve been kicking the idea around quite a bit. Hmm, needs some further thought …

    I did a lot of research about the possible side-effects of Sean’s injury and the resultant coma, but tried to include only that which was logical within the framework of the story in FIFTH VICTIM: CF#9. What did come across quite strongly, however, was that as far as the human brain is concerned, anything can happen.

    I’ve always tried to challenge preconceptions with my work, and hope that I will long continue to do so.

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