indie publishing

A Murder of Crows by Reed W. Huston

murder of crowsWith this short story, I discovered a tale with what seemed to be an overused premise erupt into something far creepier than I’d ever expected.

The Concept:  C+
A sweet young couple and their adorable little cat move into a new home, which the husband becomes convinced is being watched by swarms of creepy, telepathic crows.

It’s not the most original horror premise out there, but the author’s blurb made it sound just eerie enough that I figured it was worth a shot.  I didn’t know this when I started reading, of course, but it’s not the beginning that makes this story special—it’s the deliciousness of the ending.

The Execution:  B+
How exactly does one go about trying to make a horde of crows give a reader chills in a world in which Hitchcock’s The Birds is so well-known?  Huston gives it a surprising amount of justice, buffeting the reader expertly back and forth between scenes of cute banter between Danny and Rebecca and scenes of bewildering avian menace.  The tonal whiplash from the idyllic romance and the inexplicable dread serves to emphasize the crescendo of sinister elements in the story.

The Writer’s Voice:  B
Huston can certainly turn a phrase, and he clearly has a knack for spookiness.  There were a few little things that bothered me—a few overused words and a lack of delineation between official narration and direct thoughts of the narrator, for example.  But the first-person narration helped smooth over a lot of those minor quibbles, allowing me to get into Danny Jackson’s head and feel his dread.

The simplistic, sometimes awkward phrasing to represent the telepathic communication of the crows was a nice touch, as well, adding to the confusion and the creepiness.

The X-Factor:  A
The ending, the ending, the ending.  The ending!  It’s all about the ending!  I was interested as I read, and my interest grew steadily as the situation escalated, but during those last few pages I was reading so fast I kept accidentally skipping lines.

It’s not a perfect ending, I suppose, but it was so messed up and so unexpected that it hit me pretty hard.  It has to take a good amount of skill to pull off such a great twist in the conclusion of such a brief story, but Huston demonstrates that he’s up to the task.

The Sentence for Murder:  B+
This is a quick sample of tautly wound horror.  It starts off as nothing earth-shattering, but I’d be surprised if A Murder of Crows doesn’t surprise you in a few ways by the time you finish it.


What’s This…More New Cover Art?

I guess I’m having a good month for covers.

A friend of mine decided he liked my New Devil series enough to spontaneously send me new artwork for the first five installments.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I found thumbnails for these in my Facebook Messenger app:


These are about a thousand times more professional, more eye-catching and more useful than my own crude attempts at low-budget design.  This also motivated me to get back to work on the series, which is good considering it’s been a good five months since I released the fifth volume.  The sixth book should only be a few weeks away.

Incidentally, anyone looking for solid professional cover art without paying through the nose should take a gander at Peter von Harten’s design services.

Book Budgets

I hate book covers.

I’m not a wealthy man, so I’ve been hesitant to spend money on my writing.  My original philosophy was that, as I make a little bit of money from my sales, I’ll have a little bit that I can pour back into the process.  I’ve never paid for an editor (for which I have occasionally suffered) and all four of my books have featured covers created by yours truly.  Until now.

Because I have as much talent for graphic design as I do for lion taming, I finally admitted to myself that a sucky cover can drive away prospective readers, even when that cover is in no way intended to be a beautiful work of art.  So I decided that, while I’m definitely not going to pay three hundred dollars for a mindblowingly gorgeous illustration, maybe it was time to start dipping my toes in the water and seeing what I could get for a more reasonable sum of money.  I think it was worth it.  For one thing, I’m noticeably less embarrassed to market my work.  The new cover isn’t going to turn heads or anything, but I think it’s a fantastic bang for my buck.  Here’s the before and after:

Tiem Mechine Cover 2tiemmechinefinal

But I’m still wary of paying for self-publishing.  As I’m marketing Tiem Mechine, now that it has a new lease on life, I keep coming across various “author services” on book advertising sites.  Forty dollars for a weekend of tweets to three hundred thousand followers.  Ten dollars to be included in a book site’s newsletter.  Two hundred dollars for a deluxe social media promotional package.  That all just makes me squirm.

Some of that stuff probably works for some books.  But unless you’ve got an insanely attractive and appropriately short tagline, I’m dubious of the chances that a Twitter campaign will do much good.  And who knows how many people actually read the email newsletters from all those book review sites.  And if I’m going to pay two hundred dollars for a marketing campaign (outside of Roller Coaster Tycoon), it had better work miracles.  I think these kinds of deals start to look very alluring to struggling, unknown writers who hunger for a wider audience.  But just because we want something to work doesn’t mean we should throw our money at it.  I don’t want to be so desperate for success that I’ll try anything without a second thought.

I think it’s safer (at least for now) to stick with the practical expenses.  Paying for covers, editing, formatting and book trailers all make sense to me because there’s a more reliable and more tangible return on the investment.  Despite old adages like “you have to spend money to make money” and “without risk there’s no reward,” for an author on a budget, it’s probably best to play it safe for a while.