The City of Seven Gods featured at Adelphi University’s Authors and Artists Exhibit

I’m really happy to have one of my titles included in Adelphi University’s annual Authors and Artists Exhibit. Each year, the university invites members of the school community to share their published work in a reception and a display. The reception was last Thursday, and the exhibit is running through the month of October at the Ruth Harley University Center Gallery. You can see a full list of works on display here.

The exhibit also includes short videos of authors talking about their books. Here’s my video on The City of Seven Gods.

Andrew Peters

Uploaded by Zubin Grogg on 2017-10-05.

 

 

In celebration of Banned Books Week

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Banned Book Week Banner

Banner from East Branch of Dayton Metro Public Library System, labeled as public domain

It’s the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, September 24th through 30th, and I often do a post here in support of the cause.

From ALA’s website:

“Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The United States has an unfortunate history of book burnings and other efforts to ban and censor books that present ‘controversial’ topics, often defined as such by religious institutions. According to the ALA, one of the top reasons for books being challenged – requested to be removed – in library systems is the portrayal of sexuality, particularly in childrens and young adult books that contain LGBT characters.

For example, the top ten challenged books of 2016 include five books with LGBT content, including two books about transgender kids (I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and George by Alex Gino).

Here’s a cool video that shows all ten of those books:

Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016

Think books aren’t banned today? Think again. These are the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016, compiled by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Learn more about book challenges and censorship trends in the 2017 State of America’s Libraries Report at bit.ly/soal-2017.

Access to LGBT books has both personal and political significance to me. As a young reader, in my late teens, I pretty much desperately searched for books to help me understand my attraction to other guys. I wondered if there was something wrong with me, if it was even possible to live my life as gay. I knew no one who was gay. The little bit I knew about gay people was from overheard jokes, based on stereotypes. Gay men were effeminate, buffoons. And I caught some information from the news, which occasionally covered the AIDS epidemic, a frightening image of what it meant to be gay.

I wasn’t out, and I certainly wasn’t courageous enough to ask a librarian to point me in the right direction. So I quietly and surrepticiously searched the libary catalogue system for words like “homosexuality” and “gay.” In those days, LGBT books tended to be shelved in discreet, back or upper level areas of the stacks. It might have helped on one hand for the books I was looking for to be more visible, to help me understand that I had nothing to be ashamed about. Though at the time, it was helpful for me to be able to sneak into a desolate area of the library, grab a book, hide myself in a cubby, and read without anyone knowing what I was reading. In college, I got a little bolder and actually took some of those books out of the library, though I kept them hidden in my bedroom.

That was back in the late 1980s, and the books I found were either clinical books that were fairly equivocal about the nature of homosexuality – a perversion or a natural place on the spectrum of homosexuality – or they were gritty books about gay subculture and the sex trade (books by William S. Burroughs and Paul T. Rogers’ Saul’s Book, which have been banned or challenged over the years). In most ways, they were pretty far aloft of my experience of myself and the world, but they showed that gay people existed, a fairly mind-blowing discovery for a younger me, and comforting. If I hadn’t found those books, I don’t think I would have shaken off the anxiety and depression that was killing me. A few years later, I embarked on living an honest life as a gay man.

Nowadays, it’s gratifying to see many libraries acquiring a diverse collection of LGBT books, from childrens, young adult, adult fiction and nonfiction, and a variety of genres. I don’t mean to denigrate William Burroughs, but it’s pretty nice that young LGBTs aren’t limited to his body of work as a sole point of reference!  And libraries now have LGBT books mixed in with their popular collections and childrens/young adult collections. Some of them even create displays for Pride Month and National Coming Out Day.

From talking to LGBT kids, which was my principal métier as a social worker, I can attest to the fact that many young people can access LGBT-themed books more easily today. They’re coming out younger, with greater confidence and with family support, and some describe LGBT literature as fairly normalized in their schools and libraries, and/or are comfortable with advocating for better representation of LGBTs. Some have parents who take the lead in that regard, and not infrequently, when I meet new acquaintances, readers and other writers, they ask me where to find my books because they have a son or niece or a neighbor’s kid who is gay.

Still, there are some LGBTs who have described their experiences as similar to my own — wanting to read books with characters like themselves but needing to do so privately because they’re not quite comfortable being “out.” And, particularly in socially-conservative rural and suburban areas, it’s not so easy for them to find LGBT books.

That’s why Banned Books Week remains necessary. It reminds us that the progress we have made is both fragile and not fully realized when you look across the country, and wider across the globe. As recently as last year, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, a young adult graphic novel with LGBT characters, was removed from libraries in Minnesota and Florida through challenges.  The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom tracks book challenges and finds that 10% of them lead to the removal of a book. That might not sound like a lot, but in each community where censorship occurs, it affects many thousands of people, in addition to perpetuating the view that portrayals of sexuality, particularly LGBTs, are unnatural and unsafe for young people.

You can support the freedom to read by raising awareness of Banned Books Week, and books that are targeted themselves. Here’s a handy resource page from ALA and an infographic that shows the scope of the problem:

 

 

Flash Freebie: Get Werecat #4 for free!

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Just a quick note to let you know that for a limited time, my publisher as dropped the price for The Sim Ru Prophecy to $0.00 at Amazon.

From September 21 – 24, you can download the book for free!

It’s a special promotion for the last few days when the e-book is retailing at the Kindle store exclusively. So the other news is that starting September 25th, you can buy Werecat #4 at all the e-book retailers like iTunes, BN.com, and Kobo.

What can a permafree book do for you: My testimonial

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Every author out there can back me up when I say generating book sales is hard. It’s funny, when I tell non-authors I wrote this or that book, their eyes light up, beholding some sparkling hardcover emblazoned with my name, prominently displayed in the front case of a bookstore.

Naturally, I understand. I still trip out on those fantasies myself sometimes.

The humbling truth though is for those of us who haven’t become a household name – Stephen King, James Patterson, Anne Rice – landing opportunities for readers to discover our books, in big ways at least, is tough, tough work. It’s easy getting a book for sale at on online retailers like Amazon, but those retailers carry millions of titles, stacked somewhat helter-skelter in a virtual megawarehouse that visitors wind their way through, often with a specific author or book title in mind, often for just a couple of minutes. A complex set of criteria determines the ‘visibility’ of titles, and besides the ones you pay for (i.e. advertisements), they’re dependent on lots of people buying and reviewing the title first so that it ends up on a gallery like “bestsellers.” “new releases,” or “new and noteworthy titles.”

I’ll stop there with the explaining, though drop me a comment, and I’ll happily go on with what I know about algorithms, interest data, and other geeky things. I’m not an expert for sure, but I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned.

A strategy I had seen in marketing articles and author discussion boards was pricing the first book in a series as permafree. Smashwords publishes annual reports with excellent information about pricing, sales and trends. Here’s their 2017 Survey, which includes a section: Does free still work? (Spoilers: Yes, but it’s still worth reading the report for the details).

It makes logical sense. Lower the barrier for readers to download the first title in the series, and while you’re not making money from those downloads, the increased activity boosts the visibility of the title so more people will download it. A percentage of those downloaders will read the book, which retailers track and use as an indicator that other readers will read the book too. A percentage of those readers will like the book, post a rating and/or review, and buy the next book in the series. If they’re hooked, they’ll buy books three, four and so on, and each title will get a boost.

By indie press standards, the first book in my Werecat series, The Rearing, had sold reasonably well in its first year (2013) and garnered favorable reviews in the blogosphere and on Amazon and Goodreads. Though sales declined pretty rapidly, and besides a modest spike when the first three books were packaged together in 2015, the follow-up titles were not performing so spectacularly.

Happily, the publisher still believed in the series and took on the fourth and final installment with some new marketing ideas in mind. One of those ideas was to make The Rearing permafree when the fourth book was released on June 27th.

At one month out, I reported that the impact was pretty exciting, particularly for the permafree title, which got over 2,000 downloads in that thirty-day period, which is more ‘sales’ than it had made over the four years that it had been available for $1.99 and more recently $.99. It also received a new batch of ratings and reviews, and there were indicators of a trickledown effect for books 2-4. You can see my full report here.

Now, at a little more than two months out, downloads of The Rearing have tapered off a bit, but it’s still hovering between 1,000-2,000 on the Kindle bestsellers chart, and between 1-20 in its category (Gay fiction), which is really helpful for visibility. Over four years, the title received nine ratings/reviews on Amazon and twenty-one on Goodreads. Since going permafree, those numbers shot up to sixteen Amazon reviews and thirty-eight Goodreads reviews, by and large very positive, especially on Amazon.

A brief tangent: the average rating for the title dropped a bit on Goodreads as a result of those recent readers who got the book free, a slight cautionary tale for authors considering the permafree route. I suspect that buyers of free books may behave differently than those who pay to read. Perhaps they don’t vet the title as closely to determine if it sounds like a book they would like. A sideline curiosity.

Over two months, there have also been steady, if not dramatic sales of the other books in the series and a smaller increase in reviews. As one might expect, the second book has benefitted the most at this stage. I’d certainly like to see bigger results across the board, but for a series that was dwindling in sales overall, I’d definitely say that making the first title permafree was a shot in the arm.

I have been doing other things to promote the series – sending out review requests to bloggers, some ad runs at Goodreads and The Romance Reviews, promoting it on social media and to my mailing list. The publisher is also running ads on Amazon for The Rearing. My hope is that the cumulative efforts will lift the series over the long term, and I’ll happily let folks know how that goes!

In the meantime, if you’ve read The Rearing and any of the other books, I’d love it if you would post a rating/review, particularly on Amazon. As I’ve heard, books with fifty or more customer reviews on Amazon get a nice boost in visibility on the site.

The Rearing, Werecat Book 1

CoSG Flash Sale!

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The City of Seven Gods

**Flash Sale Alert!** Just through 11:59 PM EST today, Bold Strokes Books has The City of Seven Gods on sale for just $2.99 in honor of its recent Silver Falchion award.

What can you get cheaper than that? A small coffee perhaps. A single subway ride (barely these days). But in any case, you need something to read while you’re on the train drinking your coffee. 🙂

You can buy the book at the webstore here. Feel free to spread the word to every single person you know.

Thanks!!