Wednesday, June 01, 2011

And Now For Something A Little Different

Once upon a time, I wrote a story, sent it to a editor, they accepted it, the story appeared in their magazine, a few hundred people might read it, and then it would disappear.

Once upon a time, I wrote a short story called "Spirits" and ended up wanting to try something different with it.

"Spirits" is the tale of Sally and Rob, two young lovers who are caught up in the legend of The Phoenix Baby, the ghostly crying that haunts a repertory theatre in the city of Ottawa.  As they unravel the mystery behind the legend, they find themselves becoming inextricably entangled to the old abandoned building.

The story is set mostly at The Phoenix theatre on Bank Street in Ottawa, which had closed when I was there in 1991. (I took heavy liberties with the history of the building in my story, ignoring the fact it used to be called The Rivoli & was only the Phoenix for a few years - there's a great look at the history of Bank Street and its buildings in Ottawa, including the theatre used for my story on the URBSite blog)

Empty lot where The Phoenix used to stand - from "Bank Street Then & Now"

"Spirits" is a cross between the normal type of story I write (horror, dark humour, heavy speculative fiction elements), was more of a contemporary tale - a bit of a mystery, with an underlying love story to it. For that reason, it never quite "fit" with the usual markets I would send my fiction to. But because it contained a subtle speculative element, it also didn't quite fit well with contemporary or literary markets.

But it was a story I thought had merit. So I kept re-writing it, re-editing it, polishing it and sending it out.

A few years ago, when Lawrence Hill was writer in residence at McMaster University, I booked an appointment with him and he took a look at "Spirits." He offered some great constructive feedback for the tale, and pointed out several things about it that he quite liked. Knowing the tale didn't turn Larry off and that he found it enjoyable gave me fresh hope.

But I still kept getting back the classic "good story, just not right for us" response.

I had two options - keep sending it out and hoping it eventually found a home (because that's what writers do); or put it back in the drawer.

However, I thought maybe there was another option.

What if I pushed it out their straight to digital and sold the story for 99 cents? I chose 99 cents because the story might take someone about half an hour to read (at least that's how long the audio version of the tale goes - of course, I pause for dramatic effect, so maybe reading quietly might take 15 to 20 minutes) - and 99 cents is a pretty good price to pay for half an hour's entertainment, isn't it? 

When I was sending the story out, I was shooting for 5 cents/word, which is a standard pro rate for short fiction markets. That's just under $300 for a story that runs 5700 words. Thus, selling the story digitally, I'd need to sell about 500 to make the same amount of money.

And yes, it'd be cool to make that much money off the story - but more interesting, still, just to give it a try and see how it goes. 

For that reason, I loaded the story to Amazon to be available on their Kindle platform. I also loaded it to Smashwords which distributes to all the major ebook retailers (Kobo, Sony, Diesel, etc) - at this point it's available at Smashwords but hasn't yet cascaded to all the other channels.

I thought it might also be fun to do a push on Friday June 3, 2011 to see if some folks were interested in buying it, that I could get them to perhaps buy it on the same day. That might have an effect on getting it onto the "top seller" lists via Amazon and Smashwords. Or it might not. But you can't blame a guy for trying.

I also recorded an audio version of the story which is available completely for free on my "Prelude To A Scream" podcast. Yes, you can listen to the entire story for free online or download it and listen to it on your iPod or mp3 player. And if you like that free audio experience, perhaps you'd throw this writer a bone and consider either buying it, or perhaps posting a positive review so that others might find it.

The cover was put together using a picture my friend Greg Roberts took. You can tell I'm not a designer - but I just wanted something simple to represent the story in an image. I thought Greg's shadow picture perfectly captured the theme behind the tale; the fact that "people who haven't died can still leave their spirit in a place" the same way they might perhaps leave a shadow -- except, of course, the spirit is a lasting shadow.

And in any case, this is yet another experient with getting my fiction out there.

I'm curious to see how it goes.

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