On Grabbing Readers by the Neck

There’s a common bit of advice that authors need to “grab readers by the throat” with the first paragraph.

I fear writers who take that long are already struggling to play catch up.

For me, as a reader and now as a publisher, more important to me than first paragraphs are titles and book descriptions. I like to think over the years I’ve gotten better at both.

I alluded to this in talking about Nick Earls’ The True Story of Butterfish, which you can buy here if you haven’t already. In the run-up to a proposed serialization of the book (that ultimately never occurred), I proposed an alternate title to Nick: “The Rockstar Next Door.”

One thing among myriad that I’ve enjoyed about working with Nick is that he’s open to suggestion. His novel, The Thompson Gunner, became first “Tumble Turns” and now Borderline Famous when Exciting Press published it. Being a fan of Nick’s work from the early days of Zigzag Street and Perfect SkinThe Thompson Gunner struck me as like those old Sesame Street segments where “one of these things doesn’t belong.” It’s not a bad title, by any means, but as I read the novel I felt like something else could fit better. For me, as a reader, The Thompson Gunner struck me more like a thriller. I expected a man in the dark in sunglasses and a long coat. There was a lighthouse involved, for some reason. It felt like there would be intrigue and more than a little violence.

The Thompson Gunner was not a novel that was easily accessible in the US, and so I didn’t get to read it until I started working with Nick. Imagine my surprise when it turned out the novel was about Meg Riddoch, a stand-up comedienne on a multi-leg tour who was navigating morning talk shows and a complicated past. That past was where the titular gunner came from, but still that title felt like a mis-match. I pitched several titles to Nick; I think “Borderline Famous” was in that first batch, as was, if I’m not mistaken “Alternative Country,” but “Tumble Turns” stuck out. They’re a specific swimming maneuver Meg works to perfect through the course of the book, and felt like a great metaphor.

The problem was that in subsequent conversations, “Tumble Turns” didn’t seem to stick. For some readers, it connoted laundry, which was definitely NOT what we would go for. And so Borderline Famous it became.

With Butterfish, I wasn’t sure “Butterfish” itself was sticky. I worried it might connote French cuisine, and besides that I was pitching Nick on a plan to serialize the novel over five weeks while it would be available for pre-order. “The Rockstar Next Door” was simpler, and Nick agreed.

But then I started in on the book description, and reversed course. Because all the great press about the novel was about The True Story of Butterfish, and I realized that, cooking aside, the “True Story” was compelling. Because was there a fake story?

To find out you’ll have to read the book.

That’s a long digression away from book descriptions. I’m particularly proud of the book description for The True Story of Butterfish.

But I’m also really proud of the one for Borderline Famous. The title may have changed, but that’s the description it was published with.

Another I’m proud of: the one for Miya Kressin’s fabulous No Expectations. It was a terrific, fun, sexy novel, and I knew I needed to capture that in the info.

And then there’s Darth the Unicorn Killer. You want book info? Here’s your book info.

It’s arguably impossible for me to read any of these objectively; not only did I write them, but I published them all. If I didn’t think book descriptions on Exciting Press titles worked, I’d revise them. Hell, I frequently DO revise them. Changing turns of phrase, even rethinking them.

It used to be that readers would browse books and pick one up based on a title. They might look at a cover, but after the title, most readers checked either the inner dust jacket (remember those?) or the back cover of the paperback (remember those?).

Nowadays there’s no such browsing. You get thumbnails and titles, and then a book description, all while that “Buy Now” button hovers so prominently as to be rarely seen at all until you need to click.

For me, as a reader, I look for a few things, but in no particular order. Web pages rarely seem to have particular order any more. Nowadays I like to see some recognition and maybe a quote or two, but the internet is such a huge place anymore I rarely expect to recognize the awarding entities or blurbing authors — which makes the actual quote that much more important.

But the description? I like Darth’s because it’s so Darth. It’s a little vulgar and a lot irreverent. I like Butterfish’s because it plays with nostalgia (the parenthetical “remember those”) and hints not only at domesticity but the complications thereof while still remaining fun and simple. I love the one for Borderline Famous because it’s just so Meg. I think you really get a sense not only of her character but her mindset and the world she both lives in and perceives.


The True Story of (Publishing) The True Story of Butterfish

Spoiler: though an ordeal, Nick Earls’ novel The True Story of Butterfish is now available here. For pre-order or sale, depending when you click that link.

Longer: After winning a prestigious award and backing away from a perhaps ill-conceived title change, Kindle Direct Publishing borked an attempt to serialize Nick Earls’ latest novel due to copyright concerns. The installments didn’t sort correctly, so now you just get the novel, at a special discount through the rest of 2018.


The True Story of Butterfish is the last novel I read in print, as a paperback, nearly seven years ago now. It came as a bonus; I’d just started to work with Nick Earls, who was and remains one of my favorite authors in the world, and when I mentioned I’d never been able to get the paperback here in America, he sent me a signed copy, along with a signed copy of Perfect Skin, in probably the delivery ever.

I read most of Butterfish in an emergency room, waiting for my wife (spoiler: she’s okay). It’s everything that ever made me want to work with Nick. I fear I describe his work as funny and warm and poignant too often, so let me try a little harder here: it’s a surprising novel about rockstar Curtis, who’s retiring to the suburbs, and his navigation of life away from the tours and the spotlight, if not the studio. He’s coming to terms with the loss of his father, and meanwhile striking up a relationship with the family next door. That family includes a woman roughly his age who doesn’t seem used to the idea of traditional romance or dating and a beguiling ingenue most likely about half his age who is barreling into adulthood and hormones and beauty. Annaliese is very much on the cusp of the heartbreaker status probably every one in her life has told her she would one day become, and she’s flirting with the cliff every bit as much as she’s flirting with the cliff.

I loved it when I read it, and even more when I set to publish it.

But in publishing it, I wanted to do more for it. I wanted it to be bigger, get more attention. It’s already gotten stellar reviews.

So I thought, hey, maybe serialize it. Divide into five sections to be published in five concurrent weeks, culminating in the novel in full, which would be set to preorder availability during week two but live week four. That way the installments are like samples for a buck a piece, and you get continuous momentum.

Amazon, however, had other plans.


It was all ready to go. I discussed with Nick a different title, “The Rockstar Next Door,” but in the end The True Story of Butterfish felt like it had more depth to it, which the novel has, as well. Because it’s not a novel about rockstardom; it’s one about leaving rockstardom behind, or maybe growing beyond it. It’s not about next door; it’s about home.

So I decided to keep the original title. Even if I still intended to break it up.

The plan was to publish the first installment on Black Friday, with the second on Cyber Monday and then every week through Christmas Eve. Or something like that. The logistics were sound.

And so, dutifully, 72 hours before publication, I uploaded files for Kindle. Amazon likes some time to review files, and I was happy to provide it.

And I was glad to do so, because 24 hours passed, and then 48, and I was starting to get antsy. Ahead of 72, though, I got the fateful email.

Amazon is, rightfully, diligent about copyright, especially when it comes to Kindle Direct. Sadly, there are unscrupulous entities publishing books they don’t have the right to. Or who would, anyway, if Amazon weren’t diligent.

The problem is that sometimes Amazon is TOO diligent. They wanted proof I had the rights to publish Nick’s work.

Which, fine, but keep in mind, Exciting Press has been publishing Nick Earls’ books since 2012. Six years now.

Which you’d think would be enough, but along those TOO diligent lines: this isn’t the first, nor even the second, time this has happened. I think it’s probably the fifth.

Each time, Nick has been gracious. Basically, the process is that Amazon needs to receive an email from the author’s email account of record (???) a confirmation of publication rights. Nick has done so dutifully each time. I will confess up front I might, at times, be less gracious and less forgiving, and this time around both Nick and I allowed ourselves some impatience.

Because diligence is one thing, but for me, the feeling is “c’MON, Amazon! I’ve been publishing Nick’s books for like SEVEN years now.”

The problem was two-fold this time around. Because I published “twice,” in the system. I published both the full novel for pre-order, and the first installment. And despite several rounds of emails, the novel came up for pre-order but Amazon blocked the sale of the first installment.

It was, eventually, sorted. Last week. The installment was released for sale. Yay.


I’m not linking to the first installment. I took it down.

Because Amazon made me look at what I was doing. Serializing. Installments. Pre-orders.

Amazon made me remember that as a reader I hate all those things. If the book is ready, I always think, JFC WTF BBQ JUST LET ME BUY THE DAMN THING I WAAAANT IT

I don’t want to wait for the next installment or chapter. I don’t want to buy a pre-order now so that in a month a book I forgot I bought is going to suddenly and intrusively appear on my read screen.

I set the pre-order for Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. It’ll be live in like two days.

We’re not making you wait any longer.

Analogue Men: Now Digital

It’s official! Nick Earls’ Analogue Men is now available on Kindle everywhere!

And this week is your last week to get it at its special intro price of just $2.99.

That’s a bargain for any book by Nick Earls. Nick is the Aussie author who, in the past year, has collected awards like paperbacks collect dust. He’s won People’s choices. His covers have won design awards.

And his most recent book before Analogue Men was the Wisdom Tree series, which as a collection was named the 2016 Adult Fiction ebook of the year.

So what’re you waiting for? And why? It’d be a steal even at twice the price — which it will be, before long!

Get Dolph the Unicorn Killer RIGHT NOW!

I know, I know — it’s Stranger Things weekend.

But it’s ALSO the weekend of Dolph the Unicorn Killer & Other Stories.

And there are other stories. There are stories about vampires and the Marlow family (for all you fans of Martin’s amazing Inside the Outside). There’s a stripper and bachelor shenanigans and maybe a sex club or several.

And they’re short stories!

My suggestion is to read one between episodes of Stranger Things, just as a kind of palate cleanser and to break up your binge a little.

What’re you waiting for?

Introducing Dolph the Unicorn Killer (and other stories)

I know it’s been a while. I’ll explain shortly. In the meantime, I wanted to share this awesomeness it’s my pleasure to be making available next Friday, October 27th the newest collection from Martin Lastrapes.

I first met Martin five or so years ago when his novel Inside the Outside was first published. We met via comments on another site, and he reached out to see if I’d want to do an interview. And I hurriedly bought Inside the Outside to read it to determine whether I did. It wasn’t something I did a whole lot, but I like supporting awesome authors.

Martin’s novel blew me away. Not only was I sure he was the real deal, a great writer with a unique voice and something to say, I knew I wanted to work with him. I didn’t know how or when, but hey an interview was a good place to start.

Fast forward a couple years and when I founded Exciting Press, Martin mentioned he had some short stories.

Which we tried publishing.

When I first started publishing a decade ago, I truly hoped that the digital revolution would do for publishing what Apple and iTunes had done for the music industry. I hoped one day we’d be able to buy singles, short stories for 99c, novels like albums for $6.99 —

And now it really has all blended together and everyone’s streaming everything.

But that’s a tangent. On topic: the stories did okay. They were well received.

But I’ll be honest overall that Exciting Press has built a great reputation and published some awesome books but still has a lot of opportunity to grow in sales.

Which brings us to Dolph.

A brand new collection. A few stories published previously but revisited, and a slew of new ones.

Coming next Friday, but in a day or so we’ll put up a pre-order link.