Self-Publishing Confession: Why I’m Self-Publishing IMMORTAL REMAINS

Angels and demons. Huge arseholes.

Back in 2010, my second ever traditionally published novel hit bookstores courtesy of the UK publisher, Snowbooks. It’s called FUNERAL PALLOR, the second in my Valerie Stevens urban fantasy series. It’s basically a book about blowing the crap out of zombies and laying the beat-down on some necromancers. There are headbangers with a zombie plow, a fully sentient zombie named Caroline who is Val’s sidekick. And I introduced a new character – TIM REAPER. The guy who can’t be killed.

A funny thing happened. The feedback I got from readers was unanimous: when is there going to be a Tim Reaper book? Those were the salad days for urban fantasy. Round about 2012, traditional publishing hit “peak urban fantasy” with the market now flooded with paranormal romance eclipsing urban fantasy. I can’t prove it, but I think that to the average reader, the cover art for UF books and paranormal romance looked pretty much the same. And certainly all the paranormal romance was shelved alongside urban fantasy at the bookstores that I visited. Anyway, I started writing TIM REAPER in 2011 and got it off to my then agent in London. We spend the next twelve months revising the crap out of it and, unfortunately, we missed the bus. By the time we were ready to submit, UF was over unless you were an established brand or you were writing something like my books POLTERGEEKS and STUDENT BODIES – urban fantasy aimed at young adults.

My agent and I parted company in 2014 because she’s primarily a children’s and YA agent and I wanted to write adult stuff. She’s fabulous. I would be with her today if I only wrote children’s books and YA. She couldn’t sell the project and recommended I try finding another agent. So … I spent the rest of 2014 back in the query pits and the project I queried? IMMORTAL REMAINS – A TIM REAPER NOVEL. (I also self-published my YA ZOMPOC thriller THE NORTH because I was generally disgusted with publishing all together after my YA publisher Strange Chemistry Books went under less than three years after it arrived on the publishing scene with much fanfare. (Incidentally, THE NORTH sold very well for about a year and a half. Then the sales dropped and it’s now available as a reprint with Severed Press and selling quite well again, thank you very much.)

I did get a number of full requests from agents but they all passed stating that UF was “a tough sell these days”. In January 2015 I finally found a new agent – Lane Heymont from The Seymour Agency. He got the book out there and we got a lot of full requests but after a year of submitting, this spring he said that he’d exhausted every contact and that UF was such a downer in traditional publishing that he actually submitted the book as “contemporary fantasy” hoping we might get lucky. He did a great job for me on the project and I have no complaints. But now I had this completed novel which is, in my opinion, the best thing I have ever written and no publishers were jumping at it. (I came very close with an Canadian publisher who offered the best rejection I have ever received as a professional author). In short … urban fantasy is dead in the traditional publishing world.

What did I do next? Well, I researched. I started looking into urban fantasy and dark fantasy on Amazon, checking out the rankings. What did I learn? That UF and DF are selling very well for a large number of authors who self-published it. I mean there is some excellent cover art and great stories on Amazon. Some really cool series that by rights, should be in your local bookstore under one of the Big 5 publishers.

I had a choice to make. Let my completed project sit on a flash drive and collect dust until some day in the future when traditional publishing decides that urban fantasy is “in” again? Or should I throw caution to the wind and self-publish?

The choice was very clear. I like getting paid. There would be no way for IMMORTAL REMAINS to make me any money sitting on the flash drive, so I decided to go for it once more. And I’m going all in this time because I believe in this book. A lot of people worked hard to make this a great read – my former agent, my new agent, my wife, my writer’s group. The project has been revised now a total of ten times since the first draft. It’s ready to go. It’s a fantastic read. Tim Reaper is an amoral death spirit who really wants to become human. He hasn’t aged a day in a hundred years because he switches bodies when the one he is occupying breaks down. Try to imagine Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer as a grim reaper in human form. And Reaper has some allies: Carol Sparks – a Halifax homicide detective who made the mistake of actually touching Reaper and learning that she would be shot to death in eight years. There are demons, angels and those working for both sides. Of course we can’t forget the premise: there’s a serial killer on the loose and his victims are angels. Only Reaper can stop him and if he doesn’t it’s end-of-days for the human race.

I’ve also included bonus material in the book – the first chapter from the second book, entitled, THE GIRL ON VICTORIA ROAD.

So there you have it. Maybe I can make a success out of self-publishing the book. I sure hope so. I hope that readers buy the book and fall in love with the world I’ve created. Tim Reaper is a bad boy gone good – clumsily, I might add. I was very fortunate to receive a cover blurb from the author of The Collector series as well as The Killing Kind, Chris Holm. He liked it and do you want to know something? I’m a huge fan of Chris Holm’s work. During those days over the past four years when I thought this book would never get published and when self-doubt kicked in, I went back an re-read his blurb. If a cool author like him thought the book was fantastic, then maybe I don’t suck as an author.

I’m going to post regularly on the sales figures for this book. I really believe IMMORTAL REMAINS can do well if I can grab enough people’s attention.

Right now I’m looking for reviewers. If you’d like a review copy for your Kindle or Kobo or Nook, let me know in the comments below and I’ll fire off a copy to your email. IMMORTAL REMAINS is available now for pre-order on Amazon and on Smashwords.

Here we go!

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Excerpt from IMMORTAL REMAINS

IMMORTAL REMAINS is available for pre-order. Just click the cover!

Copy of IMMORTAL REMAINS

Halifax – Present Day

I like cats.

They have a calming effect on me even though I know full well every feline out there has an agenda and they pull stupid crap like knocking a half-full glass of water off the coffee table and onto your hardwood floor at three in the morning. I’ve tried to keep a cat or two over the years, but because of what I am or possibly what I’ve done, whenever I get within ten feet of a cat, it’ll go into a violent display of hissing and spitting and stress shedding.

A few even shit themselves.

I’m serious.

There are reasons why this happens and I’m not going to get into that right now because despite the fact cats generally dislike me, I still retain a measure of admiration for them due to their uncomplicated nature.

Human beings, on the other hand? Well, that’s another story.

I’m going to throw out a word you might consider archaic. But I can’t find a better term to describe the true nature of those who slink about in the shadows, brandishing a shining steel blade or a garrotting wire. Those twisted individuals that like to prey on women with the same predatory qualities as the best killing machines in the animal kingdom. Let’s just call them, evildoers. I make it my business to hunt those without a soul because the evil they carry with them is a cosmic abomination and all those assholes in heaven above and hell below know it. It’s open season on serial killers and really, it should be for everyone when you think about it. No manner of psychiatric treatment or chemical castration is going to stop them from doing what they do, so why not hit them before they hit you? Don’t get me wrong either; I enjoy removing their stain from this earth not because of any personal sense of duty to protect women or to mete out justice – far from it.

Most of the time women piss me off; freak me out, or both.

That’s why in addition to cats, I also retain a certain fondness for hookers. I get what I want, they get paid and everyone’s happy, right? It’s a simple business transaction.

Still, someone has to put soulless serial killing assholes down because they truly are monsters. So when it comes to dealing with monsters, I like to think of myself as the guy at the grocery store produce department who sifts through hundreds of wax covered crates of red peppers, separating the cosmetically perfect ones from those that look like some kind of weird-ass genetic mutation. (The vast majority of humanity is far from perfect, incidentally, but whack-job serial killers like to think they’re perfect in every conceivable way, and nobody likes a narcissist, especially if he or she’s armed.)

No, I’m not like that blood spatter analyst who used to be on cable TV. If he were, in fact, a real human being, I’d pay him a visit, too. I’d probably show up when he’s about to kill one of his own kind because there are few things better in this world than a two-for-one deal, am I right?

My name’s Tim Reaper by the way, so, by now you’ve figured out what I am. I’ve been carrying out my little hobby for nearly a century and I’m good at it. I’m good at a lot of things you might frown on so I’ll make it easy for you: try to think of me as a guy who does odd jobs for money. You may be in need of my services one day, so don’t get all judgemental by what I do because a guy has to make a living.

The murderous prick I’d been alerted to had an interesting modus operandi. While asshole killers such as Ted Bundy liked to fake an injury to get their victim close enough to bash on the head and stuff into the back of a van, this monster liked to use cats to lure his prey, and more precisely, kittens.

I cannot abide anyone hurting a frigging kitten. If I see cat abuse, I’ll open a can of elemental whoop-ass all over the abuser. My concern for the overall welfare of local felines had intensified after I read in the paper about some maimed kittens that had been found alongside the dismembered remains of a pair of women. The cops weren’t yet ready to say a serial killer was on the loose, but the press sure as hell was. Normally, I let these kinds of things find resolution without my involvement when I know there are cops already on the case. While I knew I would have little difficulty in finding the bastard who committed these heinous acts, there’s this old saying you might be familiar with that governs my actions for better or worse. While it sucks in the human scheme of things, it’s a necessary element in the cosmic grand design. In a nutshell: everyone has their time.

I’ll throw another one out for you to chew on: fate determines your ultimate destiny. Cue creepy organ music.

So, why do I target serial killing pricks? Because I have to do something productive with my spare time, that and it’s also probable on some residual level, I’m trying to make amends for the biggest cock-up in the history of reaperdom. Still not sure what it was?

Google Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918.

Yeah, that was me. I caused it – long story.

The cosmic powers that be moved swiftly after that one, and I got the old heave-ho from my order. De vita exir – my ability to claim souls was stripped from me. I still possess my innate ability to find most human beings if the need arises, but that’s it. I was blacklisted.

So I make my own order of things. To hell with what the rest of the elementals have to say about it. I’m here for a long time, not a good one.

I kicked at the still blood-stained soil beneath a massive chestnut tree with the heel of my boot. There was a faint hint of autumn in the air and a damp breeze carried the scent of rain falling somewhere in the city a few miles away.

This was where he did it.

The bastard.

Some mountain bikers found fifteen year-old Bonnie Teller’s disemboweled corpse here less than two days ago. She’d been cut wide open from between her legs right up to her sternum and a three month old Tabby was tied to Bonnie’s left wrist by a two foot length of braided cotton. The kitten’s hind legs were broken and it was still alive (barely) and the coroner said the girl had been dead for about a day. Amazingly, coyotes and other scavengers had steered clear of her remains.

All right, listen.

You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this was the work of a twisted bastard because the body was laid out on a well-used bike trail. The killer wanted someone to find the body about a thousand kinds of fast because gruesome crime scenes were always the lead story on the nightly news. Sociopaths revel in their own news coverage – another reason I hated them.

Two weeks before Bonnie, a family of three found twenty year-old Elaine Lahey’s internal organs in a blue bag hanging from a spruce tree. Her hollowed-out torso was discovered about thirty feet away, lying against a twelve-foot length of driftwood out at Cow Bay. She too had been cut from stem to stern and there was a three-month old dead Calico, again with two broken rear legs, lashed to Elaine’s left wrist.

I clenched my jaw and drew in a breath as I collected a handful of soil from where Bonnie met another one of my kind. It was her time, unfortunately. The whirring, spinning clockwork mechanism that runs our universe had already chosen to end her before her first cries in the delivery room. Her death had already been determined before she was even a thought in her horny father’s brain as he slammed the nuts to his girlfriend in the back of a minivan on their third date.

How fair is that, right? Conceived on a bench seat in the back of a 1996 Dodge Caravan only to be gutted by a knife-wielding cat abuser before she made it to legal drinking age. I couldn’t explain the workings of the universe, the meaning of life, or even the meaning in Bonnie’s murder. I couldn’t question why out of six billion people inhabiting the planet, she was selected to meet her gruesome and terrifying end at the hands of a sick bastard who broke the legs of kittens to lure his prey.

I knew how to find the guy who did it, though, and I was going to make damned sure he’d pay for killing those two girls. Soon.

I came to him in the darkness, my black trench coat billowing back over my heels as a gust of supernatural force blew a scattering of litter against a garbage bin outside the old warehouse on Bayer’s Road. Yeah, I wore a trench coat. Lots of people in my business wore trench coats. They look cool; they’re good for hiding everything from a sawed-off shotgun to shoulder holsters and hand grenades. I even knew of one guy in England who kept a pocket dimension in his trench coat.

I heard the mewling of a kitten in the back of the cargo van parked adjacent to the bin. I knew the soulless prick was probably moments away from breaking its legs, before turning his attention to the girl he’d taken.

I ran a leather-clad sleeve across my brow as I reached into my trench coat and clasped my hand across the pistol grip of my nine-millimeter Beretta. I slid it out, silencer and all, as I gripped the door handle and pulled up. The door swung open with a loud creak and there he was, hunched over a pretty blonde whose legs were bound together with silver duct tape. Her outstretched arms were taped over her head, and her eyes were a pair of enormous white Os. She would have screamed save for the fact there was a sock in her mouth, and her would-be killer?

If I could have packaged the look on his face and posted it online, I’d be the proud author of the greatest Internet meme in human history. They could put it on a t-shirt, sell it and send me a royalty check each month. Oh to dream a little.

He stared at me, his jaw hanging open as if it were on a hinge. In his left hand was a tiny Siamese kitten, and in his right hand he brandished a pair of blood stained vice-grip pliers.

Pliers! The prick was hurting kitties with fucking pliers! That pissed me off even more.

“Daniel Mackie Hooper,” I rumbled, as I aimed my weapon. “How fucked are you?”

Both the vice grip pliers and the kitten slipped out of his hands. The kitten, of course, took one look at me, hissed, and then promptly shit all over the floor of the van. It arched its back and puffed out its white and black fur until the tiny creature appeared twice its size.

W-Who are you? Hooper croaked, as a large wet spot slowly appeared on his jeans. How did you find me?

I cocked an eyebrow as my eyes bore right through his.

“Two things led me to you. The first is that you’re a soulless anomaly in the world of the living and people without souls don’t get to live – that’s my rule. The second is I heard the kitty.” I said, as I began squeezing the trigger. “Have fun in hell, prick.”

My Beretta emitted a muffled pop, then the back of his skull along with a bright red mixture of blood and brain matter splattered against the back of the passenger seat. He fell back, the rest of his head thumping against the sidewall of the van. The kitten tore past me at something close to Mach One as I climbed inside.

Perfect. I was rejected yet again by a cat – the story of my life. I pulled the sock out of the girl’s mouth and cut the tape he’d used to bind her hands and legs.

“Kelly Jameson, you get to live another day,” I said calmly, as I slid my Beretta back into its holster. “You’re three months shy of your nineteenth birthday so, you know, maybe in the future you might want to avoid climbing into vehicles with psychopathic kitten-maiming assholes.”

What happened next was kind of awkward.

The pretty blonde threw herself at my chest and started bawling. “H-He was going to kill me just like he killed those two other girls!” she blubbered.

I placed both hands firmly on the girl’s shoulders and gave her a slight push. She dropped to her knees and sobbed as I pulled out my wallet and slipped her a twenty-dollar bill.

“Maybe, you know – uh… call a cab or something, huh?” I said as I stuffed the note into her clenched fist.

She gazed up at me, wide-eyed. “But the police will want to talk to you – you’re not leaving are you? I don’t want to wait here all by myself. Please, just stay with me … please?”

Well, crap.

See, this is why women bugged the hell out of me. I mean, I’d just killed the living shit out of the guy who’d planned on gutting her and now she wanted me to baby-sit her until the cops showed up. I glanced over my shoulder to where my pickup was parked around the corner from the warehouse. If I was going to hang around, I’d definitely wind up being hauled in for questioning about precisely how I was able to locate Danny-boy. Then there was the issue of why the back of his head had been splashed all over the passenger seat, and with my luck, I’d probably wind up charged with manslaughter. I pursed my lips and looked down at Kelly who’d managed to get the tape off her legs. I decided I needed Sparks if the cops were going to be involved and she fucking hated me.

“Give me my twenty bucks back,” I said flatly, holding out my hand.

She blinked a couple of times and handed me the twenty-dollar bill. “Here,” she said, almost in a whisper.

“You okay to walk?” I asked, as I crawled out of the van.

She sniffled back a big gob of snot as she started rifling through her purse. “Yeah – are you going to hang here with me while I call the police?”

“Looks that way,” I said, handing her a business card. “Here’s the number for the homicide division. Ask for Detective Sergeant Sparks. When she answers, tell her Tim Reaper told you to call and that I’ve solved her cat abuse problem.”

The girl nodded and gave me one of those looks that told me exactly what she was thinking.

“Yeah-yeah,” I groaned, as I slipped a cigarette between my lips. “My name really is Tim Reaper … just make the call.”

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Tim Reaper is Coming.

 

IMMORTAL REMAINS (1)

 

This is a book I have worked on for five years. It has gone the round of basically all the publishers who publish urban and dark fantasy. PS … It’s hard as hell to have a breakthrough novel in UF and DF these days. I’ve decided to self-publish it because it’s time.

So … let me introduce you to Tim Reaper – he’s a character from my 2010 novel FUNERAL PALLOR – go order it if you want a taste of what he’s about.

And this is what IMMORTAL REMAINS is about:

He’s not a detective and he doesn’t give a crap if your spouse is cheating on you. Human and supernatural beings avoid him like the plague because if you get too close he’ll gleefully tell you the time and date of your own demise and that’s before he punches you in the face.

For nearly one hundred years, Tim Reaper (yes, that’s what he calls himself) has been living as a fixer, a rum runner, an enforcer and occasionally, a gumshoe. He hasn’t aged a day because of his habit of borrowing the bodies of the recently deceased. (A convenient trick when you’re on the lam.) Banished to the human world for tinkering with the natural order of life and death, he’s kept himself busy with a peculiar hobby: ending the lives of murderers and serial killers alike.

Except now, the bodies are piling up in Mexico City, Boston and the port city of Halifax. In fact, someone just found a corpse at the shipping terminal and it’s not entirely human. Called on by the Holy See to put an end to the madness, Reaper is about to learn that this particular serial killer has a hate-on for heavenly bodies and even the Supreme Being will pay the bounty if it means saving humanity from the abyss.

Look for IMMORTAL REMAINS in August.

PSS – Thanks to the author of The Collector Series, Chris Holm, for the cover blurb. Go buy his books because he’s a fantastic author.

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Send Me Cats – Save These Cats!

I’m running a contest for the next week here on my little blog in the middle of the Canadian wilderness.

Send me cat pictures. Sort of like this cat picture of one of my cats.:

 

1

I want a gallery. Every entry goes in to win a copy of TO CATCH A CAT THIEF.

Cat Thief Twitter

 

There are 5 copies available, all you have to do enter is:

  1. Send your cute cat pic to info AT sean DASH cummings DOT ca
  2. Tweet this contest 
  3. Facebook this contest

That’s it. That’s all.

Send me cats – save the cats of Thornhill from alien abduction.

Won’t someone think of the kitties?

PS Contest ends Friday June 10th at 12:00PM MTN. It’s open to Canadian, US and UK cat people.

Go!

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From Self-Published & Back Again

In 2014 I was an angry author. I’d just parted company with a literary agent I absolutely adored (because I was writing stuff she couldn’t sell)  and then my publisher, Strange Chemistry Books, went the way of the dinosaur less than three years after arriving on the publishing scene with much fanfare.  I had a perfectly fantastic young adult post apocalyptic thriller ready to rock and  so I began to query the project. After near universal replies stating that what I had written was written well but that “zombie books were a hard sell these days”, I said screw it. I’m going to try this self-publishing gig.

And so I formatted the book. (Pressbooks – I highly recommend it)  Found good cover art. Uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing and Create Space. Then … I waited.

The book is called THE NORTH, it’s about a band of teens in the Canadian militia who’ve just heard a weak broadcast on shortwave from a place called Sanctuary Base, and it’s supposed to be zombie free. They bust out of their armory and commence a perilous journey eastward across the cold Canadian prairie. They encounter more than they’d bargained for and do battle with survivalists as well as the living dead. Everything changes when they cross over into claimed land by former military elements led by somebody called SUNRAY and now the real battle for survival begins.

The book received fantastic Amazon reviews and sold quite well. I didn’t conduct a blog tour because blog tours don’t work. (Seriously, they don’t translate into sales. Waste of time.) I was unable to secure reviews from bloggers who had reviewed my earlier stuff – perhaps it was because the book was self-pubbed, who knows? I promoted the best I could online and the sales were very strong for about a year. Strong enough that I was generating a couple of hundred bucks a month in royalties from Amazon – I wasn’t going to complain. That was like … my car payment! From a zombie book!

After that first year, the sales began to dry up and for the past twelve months the book seemed stuck at around 300K in the Amazon rankings for YA Post Apocalyptic books. (That’s like a small handful of sales each month, btw.)

I could have let the book linger on in the Smashwords/Amazon e-book sales purgatory, but I decided to contact Severed Press – a small publisher of ZOMPOC fiction with a very strong following. (And damned good cover art not to mention an excellent website) They’d actually offered to publish THE NORTH back when I was an angry author but I turned them down. That said, they were a class act about it, suggesting that I contact them if I ever decide I want to have the book published as a reprint.

Well, that’s what I did. Thanks to Severed Press, THE NORTH has a new lease on life. It’s available now on Amazon.

north new

So … why did I go from self-published back to traditionally published? It was simple: the issue was discoverability. Severed Press has a strong, loyal following of readers and most of their books rank quite well on Amazon. As a self-pubbed author I had to compete against ZOMPOC books from the big traditional publishers AND independent publishers AND self-publishing types like me. The common denominator for the traditional publishers and the indies who do ZOMPOC is their existing fan base. To me, it seemed that it would be much harder to discover my book when the market is fairly flooded with self-pubbed ZOMPOC books but maybe I could see the book rebound if I was able to tap into a publisher’s fan base. We shall see, but I suspect I will be right on this and THE NORTH will experience a bump in sales, I might pick up some new fans and I can get down to writing more ZOMPOC stuff.

In short, for me, self-publishing worked … for a while. And then it didn’t, largely because of the discoverability issue. This isn’t to say that self-publishing failed me or I failed it. Every book sells for a while and then the sales drop. And I still have three other books that were traditionally published, now self-pubbed. I haven’t given up on self-publishing even though many experts in publishing thinks that ebook sales are declining.  This is a must read for anyone who truly believes the ebook is dead, because it ain’t. Not by a long-shot.

Recently, my agent has suggested that Urban Fantasy is dead. (We’ve been trying to sell a project and we’re basically at the end of the journey for this particular novel.) I have been spending some time looking at self-published urban fantasy on Amazon and it looks to me like many self-published books are doing fine, thank you very much. Perhaps UF is a hard sell for traditional publishers because they are competing against a lot of very good self-published UF. Don’t get me wrong; the big five are still publishing UF, but they’re taking very few chances on new or mid-list authors. It’s business. I get it.

And I might just self-publish this urban fantasy. It’s still out with one Canadian publisher and I’m waiting to hear back. Time will tell.

So, the journey continues. Traditional publishing is not better than self-publishing and self-publishing is not better than traditional. The moral of this story is today’s author has to be mindful of what is selling and where. He/she has to be prepared to think outside the book when it comes to placing a completed project. The biggest lesson for me is never to discount the fan base for genre-specific indie publishers. They’re loyal. Oh, and one last thing. E-books are far from dead. All the industry hype about the drop in e-book sales DISCOUNTS the self-published books and those of independent publishers like Severed Press. In short: the publishing industry is not the big five. It’s all of us: self-published authors, indies and all the rest.

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