To Finish First . . .

Zoë Sharp

August 2011 will go down in my diary as being the month of a lot of firsts. And I’m not talking about the first UK riots for years, either, although what’s happening over here is shameful and I feel I should be apologising on behalf of all the people who have not nipped out armed with a balaclava and a brick to get themselves a new free iPad. I tweeted last night that ‘Nothing quells a riot like rain. No rioting in Cumbria tonight then . . .’

Which brings me back to those firsts. Personal firsts. I’ve finally got myself on Twitter. Somebody – in fact, let’s face it everybody – told me it would be a huge time-suck. They weren’t kidding. I opened my email to find a chunk of notifications, and the faster I tried to go through and deal with them, the faster more of them kept popping into the Inbox. Eventually I had to give up and go and lie down in a darkened room.

And because the words ‘biting off’ and ‘more than I can chew’ are generally quite relevant to me, and because I never like doing things the easy way, I’ve also just opened up a couple of pages on Facebook, too. A personal page and an author page. Don’t ask me why I’ve got two. I think one might have been an error, and when I’ve got the hang of things, I might try and sort that out.

And in the middle of all this, I’ve launched my first eBook. Of course, I already have several of my Charlie Fox series out in e-format, but those were all taken care of by publisher, Allison & Busby. This is the first time I’ve had to think about everything that goes into a book from the title page to the meta-data. And the cover.

My brain is dribbling out of my ears and has been doing so for most of the week.

Looking into eBooks has been a huge subject, and I’m hugely grateful to all the people who allowed me to pick their brains while we’ve been wading our way through the sludge of disinformation out there. And oh boy, let me tell you, there’s a lake of confusion and opinion, much of it just plain wrong.

Eventually, though, we’ve managed to fight our way through, up to our necks in it and holding our noses, and develop a workable system for putting in a Word doc at one end and coming out with an eBook at the other. And when I say ‘we’ basically I mean my Other Half, Andy. Before I know it he’ll be drinking Jolt cola and snowboarding . . .

At the outset, we were told to farm out the conversion process, but never one to take the path of least resistance, Andy decided it was something he wanted to get into, and he has done so with such gusto that he’s now going to offer a conversion service for other authors who have out-of-print backlist that they want to get back out there in digital form. He’s putting together a website for this new venture and as soon as it goes live I’ll let you know – probably via twitter and facebook!

Of course, with hindsight, I realise now I should have started our eBook experimentation with the first book in the Charlie Fox series and gone from there.

Needless to say, I didn’t.

You see, I had this crazy idea that the easiest – for that read ‘smallest’ – thing to convert would be a digital anthology of short stories. I’m trying to introduce the word e-thology into common usage for this, which I hope everyone will pick up and run with. (Come on, it’s better than describing successful Olympic athletes as ‘medalling’ – which sounds vaguely pervy, doesn’t it?)

I already had four existing Charlie Fox short stories, with varying degrees of exposure. One, ‘Postcards From Another Country’ for example, had only ever been seen as an added extra in the back of the US mmpb edition of FIRST DROP.

So, I thought I’d just dash off another Charlie Fox short, put them all together with an excerpt from KILLER INSTINCT and some other Bonus Material, and join the digital revolution.

Yeah . . . righto.

For a start, ‘dashing off’ a short story proved more frustrating than I’d imagined. Maybe it’s because in the past I’ve always tended to wait for a prod from an outside stick before I get going, but I had what seemed like a good idea for a short with a highly chopped-up timeline. In theory, it was great. In practice, I banged my head against that particularly brick wall until the room spun, and couldn’t get into it. (Erm, couldn’t get into the short story, not the room – that would just be silly.)

Now, when I’m working on a book, I’ve found that if the thing won’t budge, it’s because I’m trying to write it in a direction the story really doesn’t want to go. But for some obscure reason I thought the short would get a move on if I just kept pushing hard enough.

It didn’t.

It was only when I eventually realised the futility of my efforts – and that wonderful old saying about there being no harm in turning back if you’re on the wrong road – that I made any progress at all.

When I say ‘progress’ what I mean is that I completely abandoned my first attempt and started again with a totally different idea. But before I knew it, this new ‘short’ story (ha!) had grown to close to 12,000 words. (Don’t ask me what that is in pages – us Brits use different size paper and everything. And what if there’s a lot of dialogue on a page, or you have a character who st-st-stutters?)

So, now I have a collection of five Charlie Fox short stories which spanned her career from civilian with ‘A Bridge Too Far’ right up to professional bodyguard with the new semi-epic ‘Truth And Lies’. The e-thology is called FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection, and this is what it looks like:

The cover design was done by the very talented Jane Hudson at NuDesign, a graphic designer who has always astounded me with her creative chops and her ability to manipulate PhotoShop and Illustrator. I hope you’ll agree that she’s done a terrific job. Covers for the other early books in the series are on their way and I aim to have the whole backlist out before Bouchercon in St Louis September, together with the individual short stories from FOX FIVE. And then I shall collapse in a heap and sleep for several days.

So, ‘Rati, do you like the idea of an anthology – sorry, e-thology – of short stories featuring your favourite character? Or would you be tempted to give it a try to see if the character might become a favourite before plunging into any of the books?

And just in case you do, I’m offering free downloads of FOX FIVE to the first 50 people who email me on AuthorZoeSharp [at] gmail [dot] com. All I ask is that if you like what you read you post an online review, even just a few lines.

Right, I’m off to try and catch up with all this online stuff!

This week’s Word of the Week is e-thology, meaning a digital collection of short stories, as opposed to ethology, which is the science of character, or the scientific study of the function and evolution of animal behaviour patterns.

22 thoughts on “To Finish First . . .

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    Though short stories aren't my favorite, I have enjoyed some anthologies. That is how I discovered a lot of historical mystery authors when I was first getting into the subgenre, through Mike's Ashley's anthologies of them. As for buying short stories for eBooks, I did just that when I discovered a short story/novella of Margaret Fraser's Dame Frevisse. It has been a couple years, I think, since she's published one of those books and it has been nice to read a story of hers that I hadn't encountered previously.
    Good job for venturing out!

  2. Pari Noskin

    I like anthologies, but novels remain my fav.

    BTW, it's wonderful to see you on FB — even if it is a sink!

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I'm sorry, I'll respond to the rest of the post after I stop laughing about the idea of "dashing off a short story". A bit like saying, "I'll just take a second to dismember my entire body without anesthesia", isn't it?

    But congratulations, Z, you did it!!

  4. David Corbett

    You've taken the twitter plunge just as I've invested in Freedom — the software that permits me to turn off the internet for whatever period of time I choose, I'm sure there's a moral there.

    I admire your determination and courage, Zoë. I know these past few months have been shaky and tough. I can't think of a better co-pilot for such a trip, though, than Andy. (And I'll definitely keep him in mind if or when I make the digital plunge. Right now my first two novels are in the hands of Otto Penzler for digital re-issue, and the last two are still owned by Random House, so it's moot. But a story anthology, hmm.

    BTW: I think whatever you choose to do, Charlie's fans will follow.

  5. Louise Ure

    I love the idea of an e-thology, Zoë. It's a great way to introduce new readers to your continuing character. And I'm so jealous of your live-in coder/e-publishing expert. I predict Andy will get lots of business out of this, too.

  6. Sarah W

    I like e-thologies (the object and the term) and have bought several for both of the reasons you mentioned: to have the stories of my favorite characters (or 'verses) in one place and to find new favorites.

    And I'm tickled that your backlist will be available in e-format soon — will you sign my Sony Touch at Bouchercon?

  7. Tammy Cravit

    Zoë, I love the look of the "e-thology", and look forward to reading it! As far as the ebook conversion thing goes, you have my sympathies – I've done a couple of ebook conversions (an e-thology done by a now defunct writing group to which I belonged, and a productivity book written by a friend of mine) and find it a terribly frustrating process, full of lots of trial and error even when you KNOW what you're doing. Andy has my sincere admiration for wanting to take that task on for other people.

    Alex, your comment made me spit coffee all over my monitor, but I totally agree!

    And now, I need to go find some paper towel,

  8. Dana King

    I've thought for some time that e-publishing should be liberating for authors. E-thologies, novellas, whatever, the author need no longer be constrained by a book size that must be practical to print and deemed worth the money by the potential readers. Have a story that's 35,000 words long? Too long for a short story, not long enough for people to pay as though it were a full-length novel? No problem. E-publish it, include (or don't) a few shorts, and sell it for $4.99. Or $2.99. Or give it away, if looking promotional value. It doesn't matter anymore.

    I can feel the wind in my hair even now.

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Hi PK
    Thank you. I’m the same with shorts and I find mixed anthologies can vary a lot in quality from story to story, but I always loved the Saint short stories by Leslie Charteris – they were a quick fix of the character without having to commit to a whole book. Thanks for the congrats!

    Hi Pari
    Thanks for the FB congrats, and yes, it is a hoooge time-suck/sink. Still at the kinda fun stage, though ;-]

    Hi Alex
    Yeah, that was said with tongue firmly wedged in cheek. Thanks Alex – and congrats to you too!

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Aw, thanks David
    I have the same facility as Freedom, only it comes in the form of the plug on the back of the modem ;-] And what do you mean co-pilot? I thought Andy was flying this damn plane!

    Hi Louise
    Thank you, the fringe benefits would make me blush to recount ;-]

    Hi Sarah
    Thank you – and of course I’ll sign it. I’ll bring a Sharpie (how appropriate is that?) specially for the purpose!

  11. JT Ellison

    Love the cover – so slick!

    Some advice for the Twitter and Facebook management –
    -Kill the personal FB page – you'll end up with double the work.
    -Integrate your blog to go up automatically on FB and Twitter.
    -Turn off ALL notifications. That way, you are only looking at FB & Twitter on your terms, not theirs.
    -Schedule time each day to deal with it – and don't go on except for those times.

    Should save you some time, at least.
    Welcome to the madhouse!

  12. Reine

    Hi Zoë, I love the cover art! E-thology is my new word.

    I am getting back to appreciate short stories. I think I had a falling out with them for many years, because they reminded me of those awful readers we had in school. Well, then there were all those years of mandated academic reading. No more of that for me. I'm swearing off make-believe reality and going fiction- the writing type and the reading kind. Now I must re-invent the reader in me to open up to the old forms I might have loved were I allowed.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks Tammy
    OK, OK, so the comment about ‘dashing off’ a short was said with tongue in cheek, but I really didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was. Totally frustrating. It was only when I started on the new one that I realised just how difficult the previous attempt had been. Hope your monitor cleans up OK …

    Hi Dana
    There IS a certain sense of liberation, I must admit. I’ve had this supernatural thriller in the back of my mind for years and now, finally, I may have an outlet for it!

    Hi JT
    Thanks for the advice – it shall be taken to heart. And glad you like the cover. I think Jane’s done a wonderful job, and I’m very excited about the others in the series, too.

  14. Alafair Burke

    I do like the idea of an e-thology (and I like the word), but only if it's in addition to, and not instead of, a novel. In other words, if the writer already has the short stories from over the years and makes them available at once, good for the writer and readers. If the writers takes time from the next novel to do an anthology (or e-thology) instead, I'd say it's not so wise.

    Welcome to the time suckage.

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks, Reine
    I hope you get your mojo back for short stories. They can be wonderful – Jeffery Deaver’s anthologies are just brilliant. I like single-character anthologies, too, though. And LOL on the Twitter and Facebook sentiments. Not quite there yet, but probably will be soon ;-]

    By the way, sorry to have been so erratic posting comments. For some reason it was only letting me post once, then shutting me out altogether. Maybe it just has good taste …?

    Thanks Alafair
    OK, I did take a little time out to write the new story, Truth & Lies, but it won’t delay the next book (fingers crossed!) so hopefully I haven’t been too unwise ;-]

  16. KDJames

    Congratulations on all the firsts, Zoë! You know I'm already following you on the Twitter and I think my FB page just "liked" your page. Or it snarled at you. Something. I'm unenthusiastic about FB (actually, I suck at it) and can't seem to convince myself that's a bad thing. It might be more fun someday if I ever have any "fans" of my writing.

    I'm assuming at this late hour, those 50 downloads are long gone, so I just bought your e-thology. (I like that word, though spell check does not.) And really, who in their right mind is going to pass up five Charlie Fox stories for $0.99? Interesting that I'm just now noticing the name of your publisher, considering I've bought several of their books. And I see there's even a link in the blog's header. I am so observant, it's frightening.

    I've come to appreciate short stories more since I've been reading ebooks. Not sure why that is — I never used to read category romance, for ex, because it was too short. But I'm also spending more time writing these days and I do like taking a quick short break, especially when that involves a favourite writer or a familiar character. Always happy to have more Charlie Fox.

    Good luck with the seconds and thirds and fourths as well!

  17. Sylvia

    Congratulations on the e-thology going out. Good for you (and Charlie)!

    As for Facebook… look forward to seeing your status updates.

    And don't apologize for the moronic assholes rioting in the streets. Let them grow up and learn to apologize for themsleves.

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi KD
    Lovely to hear from you and again, sorry for the delay responding, but for some reason last night the blog kept shutting me out whenever I tried to post a comment, so eventually I gave up and went to bed! (TMI, I know …)

    Thanks for the congrats. I’m not very good at FB (yet?) either, but what do you mean – “if I ever have any fans of my writing”? Surely that should be “when” not “if”. Think positive here ;-] Glad you’ve enjoyed the Charlie shorts.

    Thanks Sylvia
    I’m picking up FB slowly as I go, scattering mistakes left and right, no doubt.

    There have been a lot of rioting jokes going around already, but I won’t repeat them – not funny if you’re in the midst of it. I did think it might be an idea to issue the police with paintball guns, though, filled with the same dye they use in bank money boxes, that doesn’t wash off. That way, it would be easy to find the culprits afterwards …?

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dru – sometimes there are stand-outs in an anthology that really encourage me to try that author's work, too. I do like single-author collections, though. All the enjoyment of getting stuck into a writer's voice, in bite-size chunks ;-]

  20. Bobby Mangahas

    Hi Zoe
    It's been quite some time since I posted a comment here (posted as RJ before but had several reasons as to why I dropped that). It's amazing how many authors are going with the e-book thing, myself included. After writing a few shorts, I decided to try the e-book. (Still hoping my book will land a deal, but it's getting harder to do that). I will certainly have to check out FOX FIVE.
    Wish I was going to B'Con this year. And tell Andy good luck with his conversion service 🙂

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