Cheap Tricks: Indie Marketing on a Budget – Beta Readers

Publisher’s Weekly recently ran an article about my experiences with self-publishing, and while it proved very popular, one comment decried the lack of examples, specifically in regard to marketing. And that’s a valid complaint. After all, a writer will get much more use out of being shown how to market rather than just being told that they should. So, I thought I’d write a few blog posts about it, with a few examples of how I went about getting my novella Sour Candy ready for publication and in front of as many eyes as possible while not breaking the bank.

#1: BETA READERS

A beta reader is someone who is willing to read your book before you publish it, and as such can be an invaluable asset. If you’ve been crowing on social media about the upcoming release of your new book (“OMG, you guys, December can’t come soon enough!”) and have seen an enthusiastic response from some readers (“Yaaaaaas! Can’t wait!”), you may already have a critical resource at your disposal. Now, some caveats:

1) Try to avoid enlisting the help of family and friends as your primary beta reading crew, because feelings. Your Mom or your sister is not as likely to tell you your spelling is atrocious and the plot makes no sense, because they love you and would still like to get back that $100 they gave you last Thanksgiving. It’s harder for them to be objective without worrying that you’ll take it badly. (I, however, am fortunate in that regard, because neither my girlfriend nor my mother are afraid to tell me when something I’ve written sucks. As a result, I don’t much care for either of them, and I’m never paying back that money.) Objectivity is key, and that is more likely to be found when there are no emotional or personal ties involved. We all love it when our parents tell us you done good, but that’s not going to help do anything but give us the warm fuzzies. Your future readership don’t give a diddly-squat that your parents are proud because you’re finally working on moving out of their basement.

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Eventually…

 

2) There’s a difference between online enthusiasm and real world interest. Don’t

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“Ffft, sorry, but like, I hate books, so laterz!”

assume because someone gives you the blue thumb on Facebook that they’re simply falling all over themselves to give up Big Brother in favor of reading the latest opus from some writer with an airbrushed face they just added on Facebook last Monday. Gauge the level of interest first before you embarrass yourself and the reader. Also make sure that they like to read. For that reason, I suggest Goodreads as a good recruitment zone. If readers have added you there, obviously they like books, and there’s a greater chance they dig your genre. Join groups on GR and put out some feelers for folks who love to read what you’re putting down and welcome the chance to help an author out.

3) Creative incentives. Asking someone to read a book is no small request. Books are long and reading them for anything other than enjoyment can be time-consuming, and honestly, a bit of a chore. And if the reader doesn’t like the book, then they’re stuck with the stress of how you’ll take it. (And if you don’t take it well, you’re a jerk and shouldn’t be in this business in the first place. Publishing is a heatwave with no place for special snowflakes. You, yes you, are flawed and fallible. So is your work. Even Stephen King bakes the occasional turkey. James Patterson…well, Patterson runs a goddamn turkey farm and he’s still beloved, and a zillionaire, so get over yourself.)

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“I know. Works tho.”

So, try to make it worth the reader’s while. At the very least, offer to mention them in the acknowledgment page of the published book, and of course, furnish them with a copy of the book in their preferred format. You would be astonished at how often this is considered a major incentive. If your reader is a non-writer, the notion of their name appearing in a published book can be a major thrill. (Remember the first time you saw your name in print? Didn’t it give you a ferocious case of the soul-jiggles? Yeah, that.) Also, if you end up generating any kind of swag while promoting your book, this too should be sent to your beta readers. And once you find beta readers (and you will) who you really trust, do everything you can to keep them happy. They are helping you in ways you can’t help yourself, and they’re doing it simply because they want to. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of loyalty. So appreciate it.

4) Don’t be pushy. In your search for beta readers, you’ll undoubtedly encounter some folks who really aren’t all that interested, or who are interested but already beta read for other authors and simply don’t have the time to read your book. The polite response to this is to thank them for considering your request and move on. The incorrect response is to hammer them with emails demanding to know how come they didn’t get the special snowflake memo, and to tell them that now there’s no way you’re paying back that $150, Mom. Trust me, there are more beta readers than there are books to beta read, so be professional and courteous and not a pushy primadonna. The same applies, even more so, if the feedback you receive is negative.

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“Dear God, it was like trying to read the inside of a possum’s face.”

You enlist beta readers to read the book and identify problems, not to be told you’re a flawless juggler of glitter-filled amazeballs. Leave your ego outside in the rain and take it for a walk later. Beta readers are not there to tell you you’re great. They’re there to tell you why your book isn’t and how it could be. And if any of this is news to you, you may have some career reconsideration to mull over because you’re destined to be about as successful as a one-legged horse trying to climb a ladder sideways.

5) Enlist more than one. Every reader likes different things, and for your purposes, one reader may focus on the technical nitty-gritty of your writing, while another may be more interested in the story as a whole. Maybe one of them gets jingly for sex scenes, maybe another craves comedy.

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“Guess which one I am?”

The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you get. And when you start to get down because six beta readers all wrote back to tell you your story isn’t as great as you thought it was, consider how much worse it will feel when reviewers on Amazon tell you that. Always be willing to accept defeat. Beta readers make that defeat temporary and repairable. So get as many as you can and brace yourself for the impact. You’ll be glad of it later.

Announcing SECRET FACES

Secret Faces smallI am pleased to announce that my new short story collection SECRET FACES is now available for preorder on Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, with all other vendors to follow in the coming hours. Here’s the lowdown:

“If you are hiding from yourself, don’t expect anyone else to see you.”

Everyone has a secret. Everyone is someone else when the world isn’t looking. Sometimes that person is good, sometimes that person is not. In Bram Stoker Award-winning author Kealan Patrick Burke’s latest terrifying collection of short stories, you’ll meet thirteen people who discover the horror of what happens when those secret faces are removed and the true darkness that dwells within us all is unleashed.

Table of Contents:

Home
Stalled
The End of Us
The Red Light is Blinking
Mother/Nature
I’m Not There
Memory Lane
Terminal
Forced Entry
The Quiet
The One Night of the Year
Pig
Hoarder

With an introduction and story notes by the author.

Preorder on Amazon here.

 

 

On Location

When The Turtle Boy was first released back in 2003, I included an afterword letting readers know that Myers Pond, where Timmy Quinn first encounters the boy who will change his life forever, was based on a real place, as is the neighborhood in which Timmy lives. The pond is in Delaware, Ohio, which is where I was living when I wrote it. This is not the first time I have used real places in my work, so I thought it might be fun to share a few of them with you here.

The Turtle Boy, Currency of Souls, “Snowmen”, “Mr. Goodnight” – Delaware, OH

Myers Pond

All the locations used in the novella are real and are still there today, though, as documented at the end of the story, a house was built by the pond, which made it private property, and the water was subsequently dyed green, an aesthetic move I can only assume proved fatal for the turtles who once called it home. In the town proper, the economic downturn meant that most of the people you encountered looked dispirited, burdened, a sight so prevalent it inspired an entire novel and the creation of the haunted town of Milestone.

The Hides, “The Acquaintance”, “Prohibited” – Dungarvan, Ireland

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Photo courtesy Wikipedia/Mik Herman

The Hides was my chance to revisit my hometown in the south of Ireland and populate it with ghosts and other things. While I took some geographical and historical liberties to service the story, the majority of locations in the book are just as they appear in real life, with the exception of the leather factory (now a block of apartments) and the library (since moved to a new location, though the Old Market House which used to house it, still remains.) The Moresby Buoy (“there was a dead woman clinging to it”) has been restored and stands as a monument to the lives lost when the titular ship was sunk just outside the harbor.

Vessels – Inis Oírr, The Aran Islands

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Photo courtesy DiscoverIreland.ie

Located on the west coast of Ireland, Inis Oírr is the smallest of three islands which make up The Aran Islands. With a combined population of approximately 1200 people, I couldn’t think of a better place to send Timmy Quinn, who, by the time we catch up to him in Vessels, is desperate for isolation.

Peregrine’s Tale, Nemesis, The Tent – Hocking Hills, OH

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Photo courtesy ExploreHockingHills.com

I’ve been to Hocking Hills dozens of times. With its caves, nature trails, wide expanse of untamed woods, hideaways, and cabins, it’s a great place to get away from it all. And when you find yourself in the forest without a cell phone signal, well, how can you not write a horror story about it?

Nemesis – Adare Manor, Ireland

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Photo courtesy Adaremanor.com

In the final book of the Timmy Quinn series, Timmy finds that there are others who share his curse/talent. These people call themselves The Conduits. Led by the mysterious Catherine Moriarty, their base of operations is a mansion, inspired by the very real and very beautiful Adare Manor in Ireland.

Kin – Alabama

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Photo courtesy The Miami Herald

I had never been outside of Ohio by the time I took my first road trip. That trip took me through Alabama, some of the best and worst parts of the state. Then I saw a cotton field, something I’d never seen before. I walked through it, watching as the sun hit it just right, my fingers trailing over the cotton, and inspiration struck. While Kin had been on my mind for quite some time, that’s when I knew where it would start. When I returned from the road trip (to Florida), I immediately sat down and wrote the first four chapters of the book. The wind-wracked tree upon which Claire etches her initials and those of her friends, is real too.

Jack & Jill – Logan, Ohio

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Photo courtesy Wikipedia

With no disrespect to the people who call it home, there is something very much amiss about Logan. For a start, I have been there three times and never seen more than a handful of people there. On my first visit, a beautiful blonde woman in white was playing a violin on a bandstand at twilight, to no audience. I was convinced she was a ghost. For another, on my last visit, as I was talking with my friends about best places to photograph, a woman burst out of her house and fell to the ground screaming and covered in blood. My friend’s son questioned Heaven as we were walking through the cemetery. There are an unusual number of car accidents there. The worst thing that’s ever happened to a friend happened in Logan when she was a child. There’s a feeling in the air there that’s just wrong. The graveyards are on a hill that overlook the town, and at the opposite end, there stands a parade of mausoleums, many of them sunken, many of them open. I cannot explain what it is or why it is that’s so odd about the place, but Jack & Jill describes it better than I can here.

Master of the Moors, “Tonight the Moon is Ours” – Touraneena, Ireland

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Photo courtesy FlickrHiveMind.net

I spent a lot of my childhood in Touraneena, which is where my grandparents lived. It’s a beautiful, rural area surrounded by mountains on one side and endless fields on the other. It’s ancient, steeped in history, an anachronistic paradise for a storyteller. Many of my adventures and misadventures ended up making it into future stories. In the short “Tonight the Moon is Ours”, everything but the supernatural element really happened, though when you’re in Touraneena, it’s not hard to believe all of it could have happened. The fields, the horses, the mountains, the fog that appears abruptly, all of these combined to help influence my novel Master of the Moors.

 

Everybody Loves SOUR CANDY

Sour Candy - Resized

Okay, not everyone, because that’s pretty much impossible (and for those of you who didn’t, I tried, I swear), but I am certainly gratified by the positive feedback I’ve received for my humble little (read: weird and twisted) novella. In addition to the overwhelmingly great reviews from readers and reviewers alike, some of my favorite writers also weighed in with the following praise (a kindness for which I am endlessly indebted):

“SOUR CANDY is spectacularly good. A brilliant premise, marvelously executed, it’s as close to a perfect story as I can remember reading. I only wish I’d written it myself.” – Bentley Little, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE POLICY and THE CONSULTANT.

“On top, SOUR CANDY is a parental nightmare. But just under the lid is a mindscrew-story of a man’s life exploding. Like The Twilight Zone and the great, shorter stuff by Beaumont and Matheson, Kealan Patrick Burke opens a door that we didn’t even know was in the house.” – Josh Malerman, author of BIRD BOX

“SOUR CANDY is Kealan Patrick Burke at his beautifully hideous best. Original, compelling, and unsettling as hell, it’s must-read horror!” -Christopher Golden, New York Times #1 bestselling author of DEAD RINGERS

“An unexpected knife-turn in psychological suspense…” Christopher Fowler, author of NYCTOPHOBIA, THE SAND MEN, and the Bryant & May series.

If you haven’t already found out why Phil Pendleton really shouldn’t have accepted candy from a strange kid, you can procure your SOUR CANDY here.

 

Announcing: SOUR CANDY

Sour Candy - ResizedAt first glance, Phil Pendelton and his son Adam are just an ordinary father and son, no different from any other. They take walks in the park together, visit county fairs, museums, and zoos, and eat together overlooking the lake. Some might say the father is a little too accommodating given the lack of discipline when the child loses his temper in public. Some might say he spoils his son by allowing him to eat candy whenever he wants and set his own bedtimes. Some might say that such leniency is starting to take its toll on the father, given how his health has declined.

What no one knows is that Phil is a prisoner, and that up until a few weeks ago and a chance encounter at a grocery store, he had never seen the child before in his life.

A new novella from the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE TURTLE BOY and KIN.

Coming 11/13/2015.

(Subscribers to Digital 50 will receive this later today)

Revisiting LEGION: EXORCIST III

(This article was originally published in Cemetery Dance #62)

AN INVITATION TO THE DANCE

LEGION: EXORCIST III

I remember when the commercials for Legion: Exorcist III first started showing on TV screens in Ireland. I was fourteen years old, and although I hadn’t yet seen The Exorcist, thanks to the whole “video nasty” ban—that insidious restriction imposed by the church and browbeaten politicians (here’s looking at you, Mary Whitehouse) in order to protect impressionable children from what they deemed inappropriate material, I was well aware of the movie. It had, like so many of those movies blocked from our shores, gained something of a mythical quality by virtue of its banning. We would talk about it at recess, embellishing the things we’d heard to make it seem even more torturous to have been denied its horrors (I recall one kid telling us that there was a scene in the film in which a baby’s head explodes and a cat crawls out!).

I had, however, seen Exorcist II: The Heretic, which, considering the larger-than-life reputation of the first film, came as a great disappointment to all of those gathered there with the curtains drawn in my friend’s house one sunny Sunday afternoon. It confusThe_Exorcist_3ed us, made us wonder if perhaps we have built up the first film a bit too much in our febrile young minds.

But when those first trailers showed up on TV for the third installment, it looked like a completely different animal, and ample justification for our delight. But despite the many ad spots for Exorcist III, the film never hit the theaters on our side of the pond. Instead, it was relegated to the video stores and all but forgotten. Even then, it was hard to find.

Once adulthood starts lurking like a thief on the borders of adolescence, it’s rare that anything you were ever excited about delivers the same level of gratification. But years later, on a Bradburyesque Halloween night, I attended a midnight showing of the director’s cut of The Exorcist, digitally remastered, and I fell in love with it. It lived up to all my expectations (despite the conspicuous absence of the exploding baby), and I emerged into the crisp night air buoyed by the experience.

There is much that I can say about that night, and that movie, but The Exorcist has endured so steadfastly in the public consciousness that there is little I can add that hasn’t already been said, and said better, in the past, so let’s leave it at that and return to the point of this essay.

Inspired by that midnight screening, I hunted down a copy of Legion: Exorcist III. Unlike the original, I had few expectations when I sat down and slotted that VHS tape into the machine. As I’ve said, I believed nothing could come close to mirroring the sheer mind-blowing experience of the first film, but I had read the novel Legion, and was encouraged to see that it had been directed by the author of the book, so I kept my misgivings in check.

And I’m glad, because William Peter Blatty’s Legion (which is how I’m going to refer to it from this point on) is a terrific film, and has grown to become one of my all-time favorites.

In the company of horror fans, all you need do to indicate the movie you’re thinking of is mention one scene: a long static shot of a hospital hallway, silence broken only by the soft squeak of rubber-soled shoes and the muted crackling of ice melting in a glass. Then, an unexpected zoom-in on a figure shrouded in white wielding an oversized pair of stainless steel shears as it bears down on a pretty young nurse. It’s an incredibly frightening and masterfully crafted scene, and it has become an enduring memory for all those who’ve seen it. And it is only one of many notable scenes in a movie unfairly criticized at the time of its release.

The deranged lady crawling like a spider across the ceiling…

That voice in the confessional…(“…it’s a problem I’m working on, Father…all this…bleeding.”)

The jarring, incongruous faces on some of the religious statues (look carefully and you’ll spot them…)

The bizarre dreams of Heaven…

Had the movie been released bearing only the title of the novel upon which it is based, it might have been rightfully considered a solid, superbly written, and genuinely scary exercise in existential horror rather than a disappointing sequel to a seminal classic. It seems that audiences who went in expecting more crucifix masturbation, projectile vomit, uncouth demon spawn, or spinning heads, left somewhat chagrinned that the third installment in their beloved series had, much like the dreadful second entry Exorcist II: The Heretic, failed to emulate the original.

But to compare Legion to the original is to miss the point. There are of course, similarities, particularly in the nature of the protagonists in both movies (Father Karras in The Exorcist, and Lt. Kinderman in Legion), who believe more in Evil than Good because the evidence of the former seems more prevalent in the world they see around them, a perception that forces them to question their beliefs. But for all the questions and moral dilemmas raised in first movie, Legion takes it a step further. All the theological and spiritual questions are there, but rather than solely documenting the age-old struggle between Good and Evil, it almost seems to propose that evil may already have won.legion

Lieutenant Kinderman (the late George C. Scott, filling the shoes of the late Lee J. Cobb) is a decent man who has seen the worst the world has to offer over and over again and it has left him with a distorted view of the world, one in which the idea of devoting oneself to the worship of a higher power seems preposterous while children are being brutally murdered in direct mockery of that same devotion. Some of the best scenes in the movie center around the banter between Kinderman and his closest friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders, taking over for Reverend William O’ Malley). Kinderman takes no small delight in goading Dyer, in poking fun at his friend’s faith, but the humor is borne of the detective’s disgust with the world in which he exists, and nothing will convince him otherwise. And by the time the movie reaches its climax, the only revelation that Kinderman experiences is that he was right.

As is typical of Blatty’s work, both on the page and on the screen, the grim proceedings are offset with wry humor. Perhaps my favorite exchange takes place at the entrance to the movie theater where Kinderman and Dyer meet once a year every year to watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Kinderman’s anecdote about the carp (“if I see it moving its gills, I’ll kill it”) is hysterically funny but Blatty does not allow the light-hearted tone to last long, and immediately follows this scene with one in which Kinderman numbly relates to Dyer the gruesome details of a young boy’s murder. There are rapid switches in tone throughout Legion (though fewer in the third act), and they only make the humor and the horror more potent as a result.

The performances are uniformly excellent, from supports to leads, with Scott in top form as the embittered Kinderman. He is truly convincing as a man grasping at the last straws of his faith not only in God, but in humanity itself. His one and only breakdown in the movie is, though brief, a truly heartbreaking moment, and as mentioned, his scenes with Ed Flanders are worth the price of admission (or rental) alone. The late Jason Miller, as Karras (the only cast member featured in both the original and sequel) is not on screen for long, but when he is, we are told all we need to know by the deep lines in his face and the pallor of skin, the death in his eyes. Kinderman’s old friend is suffering.

But special mention must go to Brad Dourif (a favorite among horror aficionados) who delivers a wonderfully manic and terrifying turn despite being forced to sit in the same spot in a straightjacket for the entire time he appears onscreen. His sneering, seething, direct-to-camera diatribes are another of the movie’s highlights. We believe he is insane. We believe he takes an almost childish delight in being permitted to carry on his heinous work. We believe he is the Gemini Killer.

Legion is well-written, beautifully shot, and for the most part a great adaptation of the novel. But the movie’s greatest deviation from the source material becomes its biggest flaw. Apparently under pressure from the studio, Blatty altered the ending to include an exorcism and was forced to tack “Exorcist III” onto the title of the movie. Whether or not this was the case, the final sequence with Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) seems like an afterthought and somewhat cheapens what is to that point, a solid, cerebral and scary supernatural thriller. It is not, however, enough to ruin a great film. It just leaves one wondering what might have been had the producers been savvy enough to let Blatty ride his own train to the very end.

In the end, Legion is a thoughtful, well-executed study of man’s everlasting struggle against overwhelming darkness. And nowhere is it better emphasized than in that dark cell, when The Gemini Killer speaks to Kinderman. The old detective’s expression only further compounds one of the underlying messages at the core of the story: We, like Kinderman, will never fully understand why God allows monsters to roam the earth, or why terrible things happen to good people. We are never certain if there even is a God, or a Heaven. We only know what we’ve been told and shown, and led to believe.

Faith is fragile. Evil is certain

There are no immediate answers.

Maybe later.