Friday, October 26, 2012

Selling Books Like a Drug Dealer: Free vs. Almost Free

How much would you pay for an e-Book?
In 2012, price is an amorphous concept in digital publishing. I read more than a few books for free. I have rejected a book priced at $4.99 because I didn’t think it was worth it. I have paid more than $10 for a book I really wanted. You can’t nail it down. It all comes back to a concept that I learned in Economics 101; as a seller, the “right” price is highest price that the market will bear for any particular item.
So how much will the market bear to read my short stories? This question has plagued me since I started publishing. At first, I thought that $2.99 would work, then I tried free on Kindle Direct Publishing, then I tried $1.99 and so on. After six months, these experiments have led me to a conclusion; the price of the story doesn’t really matter at this point.
Why? Because I haven’t found the audience interested in my style of crime thrillers and I haven’t proven to those readers that my work is worth reading. With so many self published writers competing with the publishing houses and other forms of entertainment, I can’t try to compete with everyone. I have to find my niche and focus on appealing to them. And since people only have a limited amount of time and attention, I have to prove that my work is worth the effort before my audience will read my stories consistently.
So I have come up with a new plan; I am going to target a very narrow segment of the reading population and offer them several of my stories for free. My theory is that once I find the right readers and expose them to my work without any financial risk, they will be more willing to pay for other books later. My hope is that readers become addicted to my style, like a crackhead who can’t get off the pipe. I don’t think people should spend their rent money to pay me or start stealing TV’s to buy my e-books, but I will take the royalty payment without asking a lot of questions.
I currently have three urban horror stories available for free on Smashwords for Halloween. Other stories will go online for free in the coming months on Try them and let me know what you think. The first ones are free. After that we’re going to have to work something out…
Have fun.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bloody Inspiration: The 21 Films That Have Influenced My Writing

Every artists and writer is influenced by their background, environment and what they are exposed to. I’m sure that there are hundreds of things that I have seen, heard and read that have shaped the way I write. I grew up in a movie culture, so there are probably dozens of movies that guide the way I envision character and create dialogue. I’m sticking with 21 for this list because they match the tone and genre that I enjoy the most and because I can’t spend days on this blog post. In any event, if you enjoy these 21 films, I think you will enjoy my writing.
  1. The American (2010): a minimalistic spy thriller; one of the few times the movie was better than the book.
  2. Basic Instinct (1992): the most well known example of the erotic thriller
  3. Blade Runner (1982): an amazing blend of noir and sci-fi that defined cyberpunk 
  4. Brick (2005): a well done noir detective story set in high school 
  5. Chinatown (1974): defined noir drama for an entire generation
  6. Enter the Dragon (1973): its never considered a espionage film due to the excessive ass kicking, but that’s what it is at it’s core
  7. Fight Club (1999): we don’t talk about fight club… 
  8. Heat (1995): a very stylish example of the heist film
  9. Inception (2010): a beautifully structured combination of sci-fi and espionage
  10. La Femme Nikita (1990): a classic European espionage film that spawned a good TV show, a bad TV show and an awful American remake 
  11. Layer Cake (2004): a British crime drama with a good plot and a good cast
  12. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998): strong characters and stronger dialogue 
  13. Memento (2000): the crime drama that redefined the use of the flashback 
  14. Miami Vice (2006): a spy thriller pretending to be a remake of an 80’s cop movie
  15. Reservoir Dogs (1992): I wish all the dialogue in my writing was this good
  16. Ronin (1998): a crime drama that manages to be both subtle and over the top
  17. Seven (1995): easily one of the best film endings of the past 20 years
  18. Spy Game (2001): an excellent example of the career of a master spy
  19. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): nice film adaptation of a classic book
  20. The Usual Suspects (1995): a great cast a great script and the best villain in years
  21. Way of the Gun (2000): a systematically brutal with a twisted pessimism and questionable motives all around
What are your favorite crime dramas or spy thrillers? I’m always looking for good material. Let me know what I should add to my Netflix queue.
Have fun.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Surveillance Countermeasures: A Book Review

by Gamal Hennessy
One element that often comes up in my writing is surveillance. Ria Marlen stalks a pedophile from the shadows or Harrison Trent takes complex steps to detect and avoid a tail. In spy fiction, surveillance is as common as chase scenes in action films. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about The Pavement Artists in John Le Carre’s classics or the SDR’s of Barry Eisler. There is an art and a science to being followed.
One of the books that I’ve used to inform my writing is Surveillance Countermeasures (SC). Released by Paladin Press in 1994, this book approaches counter surveillance as a skill not just for spies but for business executives working abroad, victims of stalkers and others. While the book does go into a lot of theory and practice for avoiding observation on foot, in a vehicle or even in the home, it makes several assumptions that reduce its effectiveness for a wide audience.
The book starts by explaining the difference between surveillance detection (figuring out you are being followed or watched), surveillance avoidance (eluding someone who is trying to follow you) and counter surveillance (following the people who are following you). Then SC walks you through the process of detecting, avoiding and countering observation in a variety of scenarios including day, night, on foot, in a car, in urban, sub urban and rural areas. It even tries to provide a small section on detecting microphones and video cameras in your home, although that section lost me and I doubt it is as relevant now as it was in 1994.
For all the good information that SC provides, it has its limitations. The main one is that it assumes you are being shadowed by professionals over a long period of time. This gives you a chance to detect patterns of movement or behavior during the course of your daily life. That premise makes perfect sense for the scenarios that I write about, where professional operators and terrorists have the patience to put their schemes in motion. It isn’t as applicable for the woman being stalked by her jealous boyfriend or the potential crime victim being followed by an opportunistic criminal. I don’t think this reduces the utility of this book overall, but the audience it can serve isn’t as broad as it claims.
The other minor point is that SC was written in 1994, so it doesn’t take technological advances into account. A new version that I haven’t read was released in 2008. While that might be dated as well anyone interested in SC should probably pick up the updated version. I would also suggest picking up Marc MacYoung’s Street E&E book to get a more visceral perspective on the subject.
I think my descriptions of surveillance have been enhanced by this book. I recommend it to anyone who is interested about this art.
Have fun.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Who Is Gamal Hennessy?

I'm getting ready to do a radio interview this week, which means I have to be ready for hard questions like "Who the hell are you?" In an effort to prepare for this probing inquiry, I decided to revise my author bio. Then I realized that not everyone will get to hear the radio show (I'll try to post a link to it next week) and you might be reading this and still not know who the hell I am, so I decided to share the bio with you...

Author Biography for Gamal Hennessy

Gamal Hennessy is an author, entertainment attorney and nightlife advocate in New York City. He began his professional career at a Japanese animation company before moving to the corporate offices Marvel Entertainment. After leaving Marvel, Gamal began writing about the culture of New York nightlife and published a book about it called Seize the Night in 2010. Now Gamal writes stories from the shadows, bringing his readers into a world of deception, seduction and violence.

Gamal describes his fiction writing as the Usual Suspects meets Jason Bourne with a little sex thrown in to spice things up. Many of his readers agree, calling his work “gritty, chilling and provocative”. Some see a dark ambiance reminiscent of the Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant and or the Burke series from Andrew Vachs. All of them say the writing is “well crafted, fast paced and immersive”. New readers can get free digital copies of his work to form their own opinions while he plans his first novel. 

Now when all your friends ask "Who is Gamal Hennessy?" you'll be able to tell them. 

If you'd like to read some of my work for free, please check out Afraid of the Dark, Spare Some Change and The Replacements on Smashwords

Have fun.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Trade of Innocents: A Film Review

Hollywood franchises like Taken use human trafficking as the back drop for their car chases and gun fights. A thread in my own writing explores the impact of sexual slavery as part of the overall narrative. While films like Taken don’t raise the overall awareness of modern slavery they do acknowledge its existence. A much smaller independent film tackles the same subject with more sensitivity and fewer explosions. Trade of Innocents explores the complexity of the subject but its refusal to make hard narrative choices prevents the story from being truly satisfying.

The main story revolves around a former US military officer and his wife who have just relocated to Cambodia. The couple has recently lost their daughter to a pedophile kidnapper and now they are travelling around the world trying to prevent other children from being sold into sexual slavery. In their struggle to stop the pimp in a particular town the couple runs into corruption within the police department, villagers fearful of reprisals, cultural bias against girls, extreme poverty and American pedophiles that will pay any amount of money to rape children. They also have to come to terms with the loss of their own child. The strain that their daughter’s death puts on the wife and on their relationship could have been a problem more emotionally draining than fighting systemic prostitution.

Unfortunately, the traditional Hollywood movie structure hijacks this film and drains most of the life out of it. The conflict between the couple is conveniently resolved without any real effort. There are chase scenes and fist fights that don’t need to be there. The characters that you do care about never feel like they are in any real danger and the climactic opportunity for growth in the wife’s character is replaced by a predictable hero coming to save the day.

The most powerful and nuanced performance of the film is in the subplot of the American pedophile. We learn more about the root causes of sexual slavery and the depths of its perversion from this side story than in any platitude or tearful revelation of the main story. If Trade of Innocents explored more of this world it could have been a much better film. As it stands, it is a more thoughtful version of Taken even if it isn't executed as well.

Have fun.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Learning to Love the Bad Review

Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.” Bruce Lee

One of the milestones in your artistic journey is rejection. You spend months or years focusing your energy and imagination to create something and express an aspect of yourself. Then a critic comes along and tells you it sucks. This is not a small thing to most artists. It is a blow to even the strongest of egos. It is also inevitable. So how do you deal with a scathing review that rejects every aspect of your art? The tactic I have developed is an attempt to answer this question.

What a bad review does for you:

First, let’s accept that no matter how a bad review makes you feel, it does serve useful purposes. Critical analysis helps your art (and art in general) evolve by:
  • Counterbalancing possible review bias: There are several reasons why you might get a good review that have nothing to do with your book. It could be based on the reviewer’s relationship to you or for work you’ve done in the past. If you only get good reviews your ego will swell and your growth will stagnate.  It’s true that you could also get bad reviews for reasons that have nothing to do with your writing. It could be based on the readers need for ego gratification or traffic (as a Yelp reviewer, I can confirm that bad reviews get much more attention than good ones). But if you get bad reviews that have constructive criticism you can learn from your mistakes and you will improve your craft. 
  • Evaluating your story from a new perspective: You know your vision and what you’re trying to say. You’re sure that what you put out conveys that message. But a negative review might point out that you’re not getting your message across. Or it could point out that people don’t embrace or agree with your vision. Either way, you find out just as much about yourself and what you’ve created by a negative review as you do from a positive one. You might learn more from a negative review.
  • Tests your resolve to write: Some bad reviews are nothing more than personal attacks or desperate cries for attention masquerading as constructive criticism. But if the opinions of other people are enough to stifle your creativity, then it might be better for you to not write at all. There will always be people who try to project their failures and discontent onto you. Don’t let that stop you from expressing yourself.

Other advice for dealing with a bad review
There are many methods for dealing with the inevitability of bad reviews. The best one for you is the one that fits your personality and writing style. Here are to good examples that I have found:
  • Realize that everybody gets bad reviews
  • Don’t let the bad comments outweigh the good ones
  • Don’t look at the reviews
  • Think about what the critic is saying.
  • Don't read reviews:
  • Stay cool.
  • Remember, it's not personal.
Both these methods include a suggestion to avoid reading any reviews, but that sacrifices a chance to learn. My alternative attempts to get something useful out of a review.

My method for dealing with a bad review

The inspiration for this is the same type of intelligence analysis my characters go through in my stories.

Step 1: Review the review: When I get a bad review with specific criticisms, I break down the review into discreet parts and figure out if there is anything there that I can use to improve my writing. This gives me the sense of taking control of my work back from the critic. It also helps me separate useful criticism from useless posturing.

Step 2: Get independent confirmation: Single source information is never as reliable as corroborated information. Once I find potentially useful observations of my work from a critic, I take that information to other reliable sources to see if they can confirm or deny the critical findings.

Step 3: Act upon the conclusions: If you find constructive criticism and confirm that it is useful from third parties then incorporate it into your future work. It is natural to make mistakes when creating art, but you don’t have to keep repeating the same mistakes.

Step 4: Keep writing: Don’t obsess over a bad review (or a good review). Remember the reasons you are writing and maintain the resolve to keep writing in the face of criticism. Your art can grow and thrive in the midst of critics. It can’t grow if you give up.

Have fun.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Horror That Lives Just Around the Corner

When I was learning to write, I was taught about the distinctions between different types of fiction. Horror, of course, was one of the main genres and came in two varieties. It was broken down into natural horror (stories based on threats like criminals, sociopaths and the violently insane) and supernatural horror (stories based on unconfirmed concepts like vampires, zombies and ghosts).  Right now the craze in horror is completely of the supernatural variety. All you have to do is look at all the media devoted to the zombie apocalypse to see what I’m talking about. But in spite of the current trend, I write natural horror because I believe that it makes the stories much more frightening.
I have three urban horror stories currently available for free on Smashwords:
  • The Replacements is a story about three high school boys who are forced to face their worst fears when they try to buy a girl in the sex trade.
  • Spare Some Change reverses the power dynamic between an urban yuppie and a homeless man deep in the tunnels under New York City.
  • Finally, Afraid of the Dark is set in a near future society where government sponsored killers roam the streets answering to no authority but their own.
I try to create a sense of realism in my horror that infects the mind of the reader. I don’t want you to imagine a theoretical horror. I want you to feel like “This could happen to me.” That’s when you get scared. That’s when horror works.
I know Halloween is traditionally about supernatural horror. I know that vampires and zombies have a lot of cache in modern entertainment. But I don’t relate to supernatural horror, so I don’t have any inspiration to write about that. Stories about being terrorized by homeless maniacs or slave traders might not be the trend now, but try not to follow the trends. I’m trying to tap into primal fears and the fear of someone who might be just around the corner is more powerful than the fear of something that might only exist in our collective imagination.

Have fun.