A Christmas Tale

Busy with the new site, there’s a lot still to do. So here’s a tale from Underdog Anthology 7, ‘Christmas Lights and Darks’. This is a new one. I’m considering reposting some of the older ones as Christmas approaches.

One more week and it’ll be over.

Collection Day

   The elves appeared in Helen’s kitchen on Boxing Day without so much as a by-your-leave. Surprised, she dropped her cigarette into her coffee, fished it out, swore at it, swore at the elves then threw the wet cigarette at them.
   “Hoi, there’s no call for that.” The smaller elf ducked but the big one wasn’t so quick. Wet tobacco splattered across his tunic.
   The smaller elf moved fast enough to take the coffee from Helen’s hand before she could throw that too. He emptied it into the sink.
   The bigger elf looked down at his tunic. “Well, that’s gratitude for you. All those presents, delivered on time, and this is the thanks we get.”
   Helen put her fists on her hips and jutted her law at them. “Who are you? You can’t just walk into people’s houses without an invitation. Haven’t you heard of knocking and asking to come in?”
   The elves looked at each other. “Well, no, we haven’t. Santa sneaks into almost every house in the world every Christmas Eve and nobody seems to mind. He’s a lot bigger than us, too. And what do you mean, who are we? Isn’t it obvious?”
   “Not to me. You could be anyone. You could be midget burglars dressed as elves for all I know.”
   “We are elves.” The smaller elf took a cloth from beside the sink and handed it to the larger one. “I am Tiddles, and it’s a perfectly normal and very common elf name so take that smirk off your face.”
   The bigger elf wiped at the remains of the cigarette with the cloth then threw it into the sink. “I am George. You are Helen Arnott, and we are here to talk about presents.”
   Helen stared at them both until she had convinced herself that they were real elves. To maintain her increasingly tenuous connection to reality, she gazed through the window at her children, playing in the garden with their new flying gadgets. The children were real, the garden was real, the window was real, the kitchen was real and so the elves must be real. She sank into a chair and lit another cigarette.
   “You’re not supposed to smoke when you have visitors.” Tiddles folded his arms. “We have to consider our elfin safety, you know.”
   Helen took a long drag and blew smoke right at him. “Up yours. My house, my rules, and you were not invited so you have no say.”
   “It’s as bad as Santa’s room in here.” George waved his hand in front of his face. “At least she’s not plastered.”
   “What do you want?” Helen tapped ash into the ashtray. “Christmas was yesterday. What is it, elf day off? I have children to look after and a husband who will expect his dinner when he gets home from the pub. Don’t you have reindeer to muck out or something?”
   George rolled his eyes. “Don’t remind us. Feeding and mucking out takes up most of the day and then we have to deal with Santa too, and on the way to next Christmas it’s present-making on top.”
   “Yeah.” Tiddles took a step closer. “Then there’s the heating. We’re woodland creatures so we have the heating on all year because that fat idiot based his operation at the North Pole. Something about ‘tradition’. It’s no place for the pastoral creature up there, I can tell you. I haven’t seen a tree since I don’t know when.”
   George nudged him and whispered, “We saw one on the way in. Beech, it was.”
   “Shut up, George, and get the paperwork out.” Tiddles’ face developed a sneer. “We have considerable overheads since we signed those Santa contracts and made your human fantasy a reality. Reindeer have to be fed and Santa eats as much as all of them combined. Then there’s his drinks and tobacco bill and that’s before we even start on the raw materials for the presents.”
   Helen finished her cigarette and stubbed it out. “So? I remember when Santa became real. Twenty-four years ago, when I was just a child. Real, mysterious presents came after we kids sent letters and most of us were in deep shit on Christmas morning because of it. Our parents all thought we’d stolen them. It took years before everyone accepted the truth. You little buggers made my life hell until then.”
   “Yes, well, every new business has its teething problems.” Tiddles sniffed and looked away. “We could hardly advertise what was supposed to be a secret, could we? Anyway, you got what you wanted. You sent the orders in and we delivered. Now it’s invoice time.”
   “Invoice?” Helen wrinkled her nose. “What the hell are you talking about? I didn’t fill in any order forms. I have no contract with you so you can’t invoice me for anything.”
   “Oh?” Tiddles motioned George to display the laminated, yellowed pages he held. “What do you call these then?”
   Helen inspected the pages. “Santa letters. Looks like mine from all those years ago. You kept them?”
   “Of course. They are unpaid.” Tiddles took one from George and held it up. “There’s quite a list here. All delivered as ordered and delivered on time. You will note,” he tapped the bottom of the letter, “the order is signed and is therefore a legal request for goods.”
   “It’s a Santa letter. I wrote it when I was about six years old. You can’t make it into a contract now. That’s not fair.” She reached for the letter but Tiddles pulled it away.
   “We didn’t go into this business for fun, you know.” He waved the laminated pages. “When Santa approached us with his idea to make the old legend real, he had the whole thing costed and planned. Naturally he had arranged it so he only had to work one day a year while we work all the time, the swine, but we never intended to do all this for free.”
   “We don’t ask the children for money. They don’t have any.” George took the letters from Tiddles and put them into his jacket. “We can’t ask the parents to pay either. They didn’t sign the requests. So we have to wait until you grow up. Until you reach thirty.”
   “You’re telling me the whole Christmas thing is a big con? You let children order toys thinking they’re free and then you come back and collect the money later?” Helen considered her cigarette box but it was too soon for another. “This looks like some kind of racket to me. How do I know you won’t come back every year for more money?”
   “We could do that if you prefer. There is a credit plan.” George reached inside his jacket again. “The interest rates are a bit steep though and you already have twenty-four years of interest on the account so I’d suggest you think carefully before deciding.”
   “One-off payments are better for both of us.” Tiddles motioned to George to forget the credit forms. “We do have an awful lot of clients to visit and we don’t want to have to see them all every year. Besides, every year there are more. No, it’s better all round if we close the account now.”
   “I ought to close your account with a breadknife.” Helen glowered at the elves. “All this time I thought Christmas was about giving and it turns out you and Santa are just as commercial as the rest of it. You’re worse because you don’t even mention a price at the time.” She took another cigarette and tried to light it but her anger made her fingers shake. Instead she threw it onto the table.
   “I understand your disappointment. I really do.” Tiddles held up his hands and took two quick steps backwards. “But if we had told you at the time, imagine how it would have ruined your childhood. I mean, you wouldn’t want to see the looks on your own children’s’ faces if we told them we’d be back to collect later, would you?”
   Helen slammed her hand on the table. “You leave my children out of this.” She sank back in her chair when she realised the elves couldn’t do that. The children were outside now, playing with Santa’s presents, oblivious to the cash demands they could expect when they were older. Should she warn them? Could she ruin every Christmas for them while they were still so young?
   She glared harder at the elves. “Damn you. You’ve set up a nasty little racket here, haven’t you? If I don’t warn my kids, they get a cruel shock later. If I do, I look like the bad guy. Well maybe I’ll just tell them anyway. That would spoil your fun, wouldn’t it?”
   “Not really.” George formed a tight smile. “We hate living in the cold. Some of us would be relieved if this was all over.”
   “Don’t listen to him.” Tiddles made a fist at George then turned, all smiles, to Helen. “Look. I realise this has come as a shock to you. That’s because your parents didn’t know about the arrangement. How could we tell them? It was all supposed to be a secret magical thing. If you tell your children now, they’ll hate you for it. We stop granting presents when they get to fifteen. Tell them when they reach that age and they’ll have another fifteen years to be ready when the bill comes. Sound fair?”
   “Not really.” Helen slumped in her seat. It wasn’t fair, but it was a way out of the choice she faced. She couldn’t bear to look at Peter and Felicity’s faces if she told them now. They were eleven and eight so as long as she kept their Christmas wishes reasonably cheap they wouldn’t be saddled with too much cost later. The word ‘cost’ flashed in her mind.
   Helen sat up straight. “How much?”
   “Huh?” Momentarily nonplussed, Tiddles and George glanced at each other.
   “How much do you expect me to pay you?” In Helen’s childhood, toys were simpler and far less expensive than the electronics and designer things of today. She dreaded to consider the sort of demands her children might expect later.
   “Oh. The invoice.” Tiddles held his hand out flat and waggled his fingers at George, who pulled a roll of paper from his jacket and handed it over.
   Tiddles passed the roll to Helen. “There. I think you’ll find it in order. It’s itemised in detail and listed by year. Every toy, every cash gift, right down to the chocolate pennies.”
   “It’s quite a modest invoice,” George said. “You were already six years old when we set up the business and toys were less complicated back then.”
   “Shut up. I’m checking.” Helen stared unrolling the paper. Memories of toys past filled her head as she moved down the list. There was Barbie’s car and the fluffy sea-lion. She had called him Sealy and he was probably still around, moth-eaten and faded, in the attic. Tears blurred her vision and she blinked them away but the memories flooded back as she read on. The hours of fun she and her sister had with her ‘Operation’ game. Her father’s Christmas fatigue after he had spent most of the morning assembling the Barbie Boutique and getting it wrong. That three-dimensional wooden puzzle she had never managed to solve, and the box of metal puzzles which she had completely solved before Christmas dinner. The magic set. The sparkly shoes. The fairy dress. That recording of some band she had adored as a child but cringed at now. So many memories, so many reminders of a life now gone forever, a carefree life she could never hope to recapture. A stark reminder of the truth of ageing and of her own mortality. Of all the things the elves could have done, this was by far the most cruel.
   Finally Helen reached the end. On the way she had not noted the individual prices. The toy names of her childhood had brushed aside the petty concerns of finance. When she saw the total she stopped and stared at it in silence for a long time.
   “How much?” She dropped the paper onto the table.
   “I think the print is clear enough.” Tiddles took the list and rolled it back up. “All the prices are lower than the shop equivalents at the time. You do, however, accumulate quite a bit of interest in twenty-four years.”
   “Interest is added daily,” George wore a sympathetic look. “Really, it’s best to get this dealt with today.” He took out a card reader. “We accept all major credit cards.”
   “Phil. What about Phil?” Helen stared at the cigarette she had tossed onto the table as if its existence was all that anchored her to the real world.
   Tiddles sniffed. “Phil who?”
   George nudged him. “Her husband. The guy in the pub. He was on our list just before her.”
   Tiddles shrugged. “Oh yeah, him. What about him?”
   A chill gripped Helen. “What did you do?”
   “Our job.” George puffed his generous stomach out to the point where if his buttons had had eyes they would have been wide with terror. “We presented our invoice and he was happy to pay it.”
   “What? Really?” Helen’s jaw hung loose.
   “Truth be told,” Tiddles waved his hand, “he’s a bit tipsy right now. He thought it was all a joke. Even so, it was an entirely lawful transaction.”
   “No, no, no.” Helen held her face in her hands. “You’ve bankrupted us. We’ll be in debt forever.”
   “That’s what they all say.” Tiddles folded his arms. “Still, give it a couple of generations and parents will teach their kids not to be such greedy little buggers. Then it will all even out.”
   “That’s inhuman.” Helen wished guns were still legal so she could shoot these two. “You are putting us through Hell to make some kind of Utopia.”
   George sniffed. “We are elves. We are not human. And you humans clearly need some help with personal responsibility. If we can make a modest profit and help you lot at the same time, where’s the problem?”
   “But… but…” Helen reached for her discarded cigarette.
   “Look.” Tiddles moved closer. “We are not interested in any kind of human Utopia, we do not care at all how you choose to live. It would suit us if you ran up bills you were able to pay, that’s all. It’s a business, nothing more.”
   “Phil paid you. We’re already broke.” A tear ran down Helen’s cheek. With shaking hands, she managed to light her cigarette and wondered if she would be ever able to afford another.
   “There is enough left in your accounts to cover your bill too.” Tiddles smiled, the sort of smile that expresses a feeling of not actually caring at all. “Then you’ll be broke. But you don’t have to worry about next year’s Christmas presents at least.”
   “And if you pay by credit card, like Phil did, you won’t have to pay it all back at once.” George held up the card reader.
   Helen curled her lip. “What if I don’t want to pay at all? Are you expecting the courts to take legal action by elves at all seriously? They’ll laugh at you.”
   Tiddles stared at the floor. “We are well aware that your legal system doesn’t cover elves. That’s why we don’t use it.”
   “So you can’t do a thing to me.” Helen folded her arms.
   “Ah, no, we can’t.” George looked uncomfortable. “Still it’s better you pay up, really.”
   “Why?” Helen wondered at the way the elves avoided eye contact now.
   George took a deep breath. “If you don’t pay, your kids will get no more presents. They will still get a bill when they turn thirty and that bill will include your unpaid bill as well as all the presents they’ve had up to now.”
   “You little bastards.” Helen blinked at them. “Stupid bastards too. If I don’t have to pay, they won’t have to either.”
   Tiddles pursed his lips. “Then their kids will get no presents either. That will be two strikes, then we take your descendants off our lists forever. Until the outstanding bill is paid, with accrued interest, your great grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren and so on, will be the only ones among their friends getting their Santa letters ignored.” Finally, he looked Helen in the eyes. “Imagine that. Forever on the naughty list. Because of you.”
   “This is blackmail.” Helen put her face in her hands.
   “I suppose it is, in a way.” Tiddles said. “In another way though, it’s just us asking you to pay for the service we provided.”
   Helen dropped her hands to the table and sighed. “But I didn’t ask for any service.”
   Tiddles raised his eyebrows and looked at George, who nodded and took out a laminated Santa letter.
   “Yes, yes, okay.” Helen rolled her eyes. “But I didn’t know. You cheated me.”
   “Well,” Tiddles said, “you’ve already worked out we can’t use your legal system against you because we’re not even the same species. That, however, means you can’t use it against us. So agree to our terms or let your descendants take the consequences.”
   Helen tapped her fingers on the table. There had to be a way out. Something they missed. She rubbed her chin, picked up her cigarette pack, put it down again. Fiddled with her lighter, pursed her lips, ran her hand through her hair. Something. Anything.
   “Let me see the paperwork,” she said. “All of it.”
   Tiddles narrowed his eyes, but motioned to George to hand the papers over. Helen spread them across the table, cross-checking the laminated Santa letters with the itemised bill. Finally she stacked the paperwork into one pile and sat back.
   “Well?” Tiddles raised one eyebrow. “I’m sure you found it all in order.”
   “Almost.” Helen permitted herself a small smirk. “I accept that I asked for all those things and that you delivered them. I accept that I, albeit unknowingly, agreed a contract to have those things delivered.”
   “Good.” Tiddles folded his arms. “How would you like to pay?”
   “However.” Helen held up her hand. “There is no mention of any agreement concerning interest payments. I asked for the presents, you delivered them, but at no point was any form of interest mentioned.”
   Tiddles and George exchanged an uneasy glance.
   “Bugger,” said George.
   Tiddles sighed. “So what do you propose?”
   “I will pay you for the presents but I will not pay any interest. The interest is worse than a payday loan company, it’s about ninety percent of the total.” Helen looked Tiddles straight in the eye. “You really don’t want a reputation for being fraudsters, now do you? If everyone stopped their kids sending Santa letters and went back to just buying the presents themselves, where would your sneaky little business be then?”
   “Okay, okay.” Tiddles scowled. “We realised some people would find that little flaw and factored it in. We can waive the interest on condition you sign a confidentiality agreement.”
   George took out a sheet of paper, unfolded it and passed it to Helen. He gathered the papers on the table and tucked them back into his jacket.
   Helen squinted at the paper. “What is this? Some new con trick?”
   “It’s perfectly straightforward,” said George. “We waive all the interest – at a considerable loss to ourselves – as long as you promise not to tell anyone. If you do, the interest becomes payable and all the penalties we mentioned come back into play.”
   “I can tell my kids? My husband?” Helen read the document over and over, searching for a trap, a trick, another cunning clause.
   “No, because they aren’t bound by this agreement. Only you are.” George at least had the decency to look sympathetic. “You can never tell anyone at all.”
   “Sign, and we take eighty-nine percent off the total bill.” Tiddles spoke softly. “All you have to do then, is forget this ever happened. Oh, you can still warn your kids when they turn fifteen but you can’t tell them about the interest part.” He grinned. “But hey, they are your kids, they’re bound to work it out, right?”
   “And you don’t end up broke.” George’s voice was almost a whisper. He handed her a pen.
   “They’ll work it out.” Helen accepted the pen and after one last read through, she signed. Then reached for her handbag and took out her credit card. It all still seemed so unreal, so dreamlike. The elves looked blurred, almost transparent. Even the kitchen drifted in and out of reality.
   Her children burst into the kitchen, yelling about some amazing trick they had pulled with their drone toy. Helen jumped and looked around but the elves had vanished. She shook herself. Elves in the kitchen? Must have been a dream, she must have fallen asleep for a moment. She hugged her kids and listened to their childish wonder at the toys Santa had brought them.
   Something nagged at the back of her mind, but it was probably just fatigue. It felt as if she had to tell the children something but the detail had gone. Helen shrugged it off. It was unease caused by a strange dream, nothing more. She followed the children into the garden to watch their drone trick.

***

   On the roof, Tiddles and George watched from their cloaked sleigh.
   “It’s a bit mean, really,” George said. “We never tell the smart ones about the magic part that happens when they sign the confidentiality agreement.”
   “It’s not mean.” Tiddles started the sleigh with the push of a button and it rose in silence into the sky. “We can’t let word spread about our interest scam. If it ever got back to Santa he’d be furious. We’d all be sacked and have to go back to scraping out a living in the woods. So far we’ve only lost out to about three percent of our targets. That’s not bad.”
   “I miss the woods,” said George.
   “I bloody don’t,” said Tiddles. “I’d miss my Bugatti Atlantique and my holiday flat in Monaco a lot more. Anyway, you own woods. Damn, you must own every forest in Scotland by now. I’ll never understand why you spend your share on the very thing we tried so hard to escape.”
   “I know you won’t.” George smiled at the landscape passing below. “Humans clear forests for their houses, you know. That’s why I’m part of your scam. I want to buy the forests so they can’t have them.”
   Tiddles rolled his eyes. “You’re a damn weirdo, George, but you’re the best paperwork handler in the world.” He put the sleigh into a steep dive. “Here we go again. Get the papers ready for our next patsy.”

Police State

I am working on content for the new Leg Iron Books dedicated website. It’s developing pretty fast thanks to help from someone who actually knows what they are doing. This was not helped by a nine-hour power outage last night due to a storm. Engineers were not going out to fix anything in that weather and when I consider the idea of meddling with high voltage lines in high winds and rain, I don’t blame them at all. I wouldn’t do it.

Still, at least nobody in a Robocop suit turned up to beat me with a baton. So there’s that.

In France, Belgium and increasingly in other countries, something called the ‘Yellow Vests’ is gathering pace. The police in those countries are responding with tear gas and beatings and the levels of violence on both sides are increasing. Is it war? Does that count when one side has guns and the other side has rocks? I have a feeling we’re going to find out, in many places around the world, very soon.

In the UK, the yellow vests are mostly just getting in the way. Real Brits don’t really ‘do’ en-masse violence until pushed to the limit and then we do tend to go a bit over the top with it, it all gets a bit hazy then you wake up next morning and there are heads on spikes and other messy unpleasantnesses to deal with. So far though, the UK protests are not much more than a bloody nuisance. 

The Yellow Vests seem to want different things in different countries. In France they were banging on about fuel taxes but that issue was resolved and the protests have not stopped. Maybe something else is still riling them up? It’ll soon be illegal to talk about that, including in the UK.

The UK ones seem to be mostly about the utter incompetence and sheer two-facedness our government has shown in over two years of pretending to implement Brexit.

In Brussels… I don’t know. A sudden and unexpected wine shortage seems likely.

So will the EU have to impose a police state? Let’s be honest, they would delight in it. They have already set up an unelected dictatorship run by a W.C. Fields drinking competitor and a bloke who looks like the one who played piano in Sparks. We cannot vote for or against them, they are ‘appointed’. It wouldn’t be so bad if they appointed sane and sober people to those posts but the sane and the sober already have real jobs.

The thing about a police state is… it requires an absolutely obedient and brutal police force. Basically, Daleks in human form. France has always had that, really, but this time it’s much, much bigger than a few English football fans getting pissed and annoying the painters along the Seine, or some truck drivers shrugging and frowning around their Disque Bleue.

This time they are bashing their own people, lots of them, hard. Very hard indeed.

Once day a policeman is going to swing a baton, shoot pepper spray or fire a tear gas canister right into the face of his brother, father, sister, daughter. The way things are going, maybe a live round.

It’s going to happen. When it does, that policeman’s conditioning might well break.

And when one breaks, it will spread. Like one bad apple in a barrel, the whole batch will go off.The Robocop Virus will turn most of them human again.

Soon I expect to see French police controlling Italian riots, Belgian police in Finland, and so on. Even the wine-soaked leader of the EU will eventually realise that this will have to happen.

Let’s hope he doesn’t sober up in time.

Save Europe from the EU. Send him a case of fine Chardonnay.

By the time he wakes up it’ll all be over.

Spinoff time

I am in the process of developing the development of a website for Leg Iron Books. All the book stuff will go on that site, this one will return to the world of smoke and whisky fuelled ranting and a lot of model building and trains and political babbling and general nonsense.

It’s long overdue. Having the books on here was, in retrospect, never a good idea. If I send prospective buyers here they have to hunt around for the book posts among all the random babbles, while those looking for the random babbles are put off by the sales pitch.

I say I’m developing the development of a Leg Iron Books site because, as usual, I have no idea what I’m doing. That’s never stopped me before and it won’t now.

I’m going to need professional help (I know, most of you have said that for years) but I have to know what I actually want the site to achieve first. It’s no good going to a real expert with some vague notion of ‘something booky’. I have to be able to spell out the kind of thing I need.

I would like to allow authors to access their own author page so they can update their biographies themselves. I would like to have the most recent books on the front page and easy access to older books that might drift down the stack over time. The Underdog Anthologies should be separate from the novels, a separate menu for short story collections, separate sections for the books in Dutch and in French so Dutch and French readers can go straight to them without hunting through the rest.

A further section for technical publications too. It’s starting to sound like an old MySpace garish page, isn’t it? Well on that I have good news. No flashy stuff. Plain and simple and professional, no crazy background that makes it hard to read. Simple and fast to load. The book cover images could slow down a poor connection, I don’t want the website slowing it down before the covers even appear.

I thought the best way would be to set up a prototype, so I am. It’s a primitive WordPress site and it’s really very limited in what it allows me to do, but I can make the general outline of a proper site. Then I’ll show it off to boos and jeers and laughter. Once you’ve all calmed down, you can tell me what’s wrong with it. There’ll be plenty.

I’ve already had offers of help but I don’t know which questions to ask. It seems more productive to set up a quick demo site, show it to the experts and say ‘something like that, but done properly’.

Once that site is up and running, this one can get back to proper Smoky-Drinky ranting. The only mention of books here will then be confined to a link to a new book or new blog post on the LI Books site. Oh, and occasional short stories for entertainment.

I haven’t had a good rant in ages. I’m looking forward to this.

When you see the problem… in the mirror

I was initially mystified by the very poor sales last quarter. Should I revamp book covers? Should I spam Twitter, Facebook, Gab, Instagram? No, the problem was staring me in the face when I brushed my teeth.

This little business is still very little but it’s more than a one man band can handle now. I have quite a few books over a wide range of genres and I’m also producing three anthologies a year as well as trying to write more of my own. RooBeeDoo helps with editing but she has a full time job and a family so I can’t load too much on her.

These last three months, all my writing/book time was taken up with the Halloween and Christmas anthologies. Everything else had to be put aside. The poor sales for that quarter are because I wasn’t even thinking about those books – all my attention was on the anthologies. It was entirely my fault.

That will be less of an issue next year because I’ll open and close submissions earlier. It won’t be so deadline-intense. Even so, I have to recognise that I can’t do everything myself now. It’s already grown too big for that.

I do have a reputation for fierce independence. It does not occur to me to ask for help. It’s not actually pride, it’s more perfectionism. As quite a few past microbiology technicians and PhD/MSc students (none of them failed, they wouldn’t dare) can tell you, working with me was not always fun. I pissed off quite a few by checking they’d done exactly what I wanted them to do. Often. In fact I can recall only two technicians and maybe three or four PhD students I was happy to leave to their own devices – they were perfectionists too.

So I like to do everything – absolutely everything – myself. I work alone because I’m bloody impossible to work with.

I have looked into creating a website for Leg Iron Books. Naturally I wanted to do it myself. I’ve made websites in the past, how hard can it be?

Last time I made websites, everyone viewed them on CRT screens on desktops. Sometimes on LCD screens on laptops. And it was HTML.

Well, after looking into it, I now feel like a caveman trying to fix a Rolls-Royce with a club and grunts. HTML is old hat, websites have to accommodate tablets and even phones now. I’ve been trying to work it out but I finally have to admit it would be far easier – and probably, in the long run, a lot cheaper – to pay someone who knows how to do it.

As for marketing, there are a lot of places that promise to promote your book to their readers but they are promoting thousands of books. It’s lost in the crowd. Online ads… well okay but how many people don’t have an adblocker now? Most browsers come with them already installed. Pay-per-click is still on the table because the adblockers won’t see them so won’t waste clicks. Still, I need to get the books reviewed on popular review sites and preferably in real-print magazines. That is probably not going to be easy but others are managing to do it. So it can be done.

Should I get every author to set up an account on Goodreads? I can’t set up a publisher account there, they only do reader accounts and author accounts and setting up an author account is like doing precision origami in the dark. It’s a hell of an ordeal. I think it’s worth it, but not all authors will agree.

I have been tipped off to places where I found a few tricks (thanks to Cade F.O.N Apollyon).

I have wondered about preorders and release dates. Why delay? Release it now. There is a sneaky marketing reason because all good marketers have weasel genes.

If I had set up the Christmas anthology at the start of November and said it would go live on December 1st, then all the authors pushed it to friends and family and on social media, there might well be pre-orders.When the book goes live and those orders are fulfilled, all the sales count as if they all happened on the same day. That sends the book soaring up the sales rankings for its first day out so anyone looking at it on release day can be suitably impressed.

Remember that at least 90% of books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, all the rest, sell a book every few days. I would guess about 75% are lucky to sell one a month. You sell one and it shoots up the rankings. If you have only 30 or 40 preorders you get a hell of a boost up the rankings on release day. It’s devious and sneaky and I like that.

There are also box sets of eBooks. Turns out that’s really easy. You just put all the books in one big file with a new box-set cover. Not so easy for print, but for eBooks it’s a doddle. There’s a bit more fiddling with internal links but I already know how to do that.

I could put all of Mark Ellott’s books into a box set, sell for a lower price than buying them individually and we’d both make more profit.

It isn’t universal. Margo Jackson has just one book, as does Lee Bidgood, but if I put anthology stories in the bundle it’s a possibility. Justin Sanebridge’s two books won’t work for this because they are in different languages, and Dirk Vleugels writes in different languages too, including French. The Romulus Crowe ghosthunting books are editions 1 and 2. Everything in 1 is still in 2. Pointless to box set them. I would need multiple books per author to make this work as a major thing. Or perhaps link similar or related stories by different authors. All of this will of course need new contracts and authors already under contract will not want to accept a sneaky extension (Im not the EU) so they’d be shorter contracts that end at the same time as the originals.

Speaking of anthologies, I could put those into box sets too. The downside is that Smashwords want all the authors on the cover so it’ll just be a list of names. Amazon aren’t so picky.

I thought maybe do them in threes. The first set would be 1 to 4 because it started between Halloween and Christmas initially. Then every year, after Christmas, a box set of that year’s anthologies. So someone coming in late and buying, say, Anthology 8, could get the past issues cheap.

They will be cheap. I cut profit to the bone on those because they are meant to advertise the other books and they don’t attract royalties. I might need to get the authors to sign a new contract because their current contract states I can only use their stories in one anthology, and the box set is effectively a new book. I’ll have to look into that. In future I could increase the initial payment and add a clause covering the box set. We’ll see how it goes.

I could start with my own short story collections from years ago. That might be best. Practice on something nobody minds if I screw up.

I have found the problem and it is me. So now I have to fix it.

This could get lively…

Marketing Department – Two Drink Minimum

That title was from a Dilbert cartoon (You must have come across Dilbert by now, surely? Our managers used those books as instruction manuals in the 90s) some years ago. Dilbert, an engineer, was sent to the marketing department as part of some scheme to get the engineers to understand that their developments must be marketable. Naturally they didn’t like it.

Well, books are marketable. I’ve been trying to learn how. Admittedly I don’t like it either. I have a book on marketing that is, shall we say, not exactly an engaging read. Okay, it’s duller than a Scottish December evening. I will force myself to read it, probably with the help of an entire case of caffeinated fizz, while I am in this down time after putting together two anthologies in three months. The latest, see previous post, went through all hurdles with no problem. It is complete. Now we wait… but that is the wrong thing to do. Waiting achieves nothing. A single book on Amazon is as lost as the 0.5 mm Allen key you put down safely three minutes ago. They need flashing lights and sirens to get noticed.

I have seriously considered deliberately provoking someone litiginous to get Daily Mail shock-horror look-at-this-filthy-bastard coverage. Best advertising you can get. Look what it did for 50 Shades of Grey. It could turn out expensive if I lose though.

Maybe put out something so inflammatory that the usual suspects try to get it banned. Worked a treat for Spycatcher and The Satanic Verses but hiding from death threats can be tiring.

I think I’ll try the three stories that are a prelude to Panoptica. I’ll put them together and maybe add one more that actually takes place in Panoptica. The latest prequel (Waking Santa) is in the Christmas book and well, we’re just about there. In real life we’re only a story or two behind but the story is still just ahead of reality. Just.

This will be eBook-only and will be a freebie. It will list all the Leg Iron Books in the back and for this one, you won’t find a ‘back to contents’ link at the end of the last story. You will find it on the next page, at the end of that list. So it won’t be on Amazon – I can’t make it free there unless I make it public domain (give up copyright) or give them an exclusive. I will not do either. As long as I get through Smashwords’ hurdles, it will be out on everything other than Amazon.

Smashwords has sold nothing for me in the past three months but the free stories I put on there are getting picked up. Well, ‘free’ involves no risk. Those free ones have to carry advertising and the content can be updated. That’s the next plan.

I also can’t make it print because then it won’t be free. But then the three stories are in The Good, the Bad and Santa, Six in Five in Four and the latest, Christmas Lights… and Darks so they are already in print. The new one might appear in a future anthology, maybe number 8, or I might add these to the start of the final book. Or both. That’s in the future.

Leg Iron Books is developing a decent catalogue of really good stories by some excellent, but unknown authors. It is the aim of this business that those authors will be snatched away by big publishers. That is the whole point. I’ll negotiate with the big publisher who wants to buy out their contract so I’ll make a few beans and the author will get the publicity machine of a big publishing house to get them going into the big time.

As for me, I’m staying at the bottom of the heap. I have no plans to ever rival Random House or any of the others. I’m really enjoying finding these great authors who haven’t made it to the big time yet. Making the anthologies is sometimes hard work – especially with the close proximity of the Halloween and Christmas ones – but it is always worth it.

See, I don’t need a yacht or a Lear jet or a Maserati. Although I have thought about getting a Ferrari one day, leaving cigarette burns and skidmarks on the seats, fitting boy racer bonnet clips, and brush painting it with three colours of Hammerite just so I can leave it in my will to someone I don’t like. But that’s not likely to happen. Really, the world is better off if I never get rich. Imagine what I could do with Bill Gates’ riches…

I have tried the Twitter book boosters. They only charge about $10 so I thought well, okay, I’ll try it.

It was crap. If you’re thinking of pushing your own book this way, don’t bother. I tried it with one book and it sold not one copy. Why? Because, as I realised, everyone else scrolls past that batch of 4 or 5 identical book ads on the timeline just like I do.

Yeah. They put it up 5 times a day, but in one minute. It is not spread through the day. It’s just an irritant. Nobody will click it. Better to develop a real persona on Twitter and mention the books in betwen real conversations.

Same goes for Farcebok, if anyone still uses it. Although, apart from linking these blog posts, I don’t go there much. It’s too… silly these days.

I think, if this is going to really take off, I need to get the Daily Mail style ‘shock-horror’ mob excited and vociferous.

I wonder if I can do that? Let’s play a game…

 

 

 

Nearly time to rest…

Well, the Christmas anthology is all loaded up and all I have to do now is wait until the print, Kindle and Smashwords versions report some problem or other. They will all be different problems and they won’t be the same as the ones they’ve reported before. This one has something new – all the authors have photos on their bio pages. That’s a first and if there is going to be a problem, that’s where they will most likely find it.

There are a couple of previous anthologies on Smashwords I need to ‘fix’ to get full distribution. I have not prioritised that because of late, Smashwords has sold bugger all. All the books are selling far better on Amazon. Still, I persist with Smashwords because it costs me nothing and, as long as you get past all the problems, they do have very wide distribution and they convert the book to pretty much every eBook format including the one for PalmPilots!.

Smashwords do insist on having all the author names on the cover which I personally feel looks a bit cluttered, but well, if you want to play in their yard, you have to play by their rules. One big plus is that anything loaded on there goes live at once, but it can take a few days (sometimes a few tries) to get it onto their distribution list.

As I was writing this I received an email telling me the print version is now live on Amazon. With no problems at all! All I’ll need now is an update to this post when the Kindle version goes live and when (if) it gets onto Smashwords’ distribution lists. I should have print copies – to send  to those authors who elected to be paid in books –  early next week. For now I leave you with the whole cover image for the print book.

And I’m really looking forward to taking the rest of the month off.

Sneak preview

Well, the interior of the book is done, PDFs of that are now with all authors for final checking and that just leaves the cover. It’s going to be a framed image this time. What it’s framed with, I have yet to decide, but here’s the image –

The contents page looks like this –

Foreword
The Baker Boy, The Runner and Death  Mark Ellott
Not So Silent Night  Daniel Royer
Moonlit Shadow  Martyn K. Jones
Collection Day H. K. Hillman
Caesar’s Wife Roo B. Doo
The Affair Marsha Webb
Waking Santa H. K. Hillman
Tinsel Tattle Daniel Royer
The Brush-Off Cade F.O.N Apollyon
A Christmas Contract H. K. Hillman
Afterword
About the Authors

And just for fun, here’s the foreword –

Here we go again. Anthology Seven, and so far each anthology has introduced at least one new author. This time we are joined by Martyn K. Jones, along with returning authors Marsha Webb and Daniel Royer. Of course, some names are regular appearances. Mark Ellott, myself and Roo B.Doo show up a lot. Increasingly, Cade F.O.N Apollyon is becoming a regular contributor.
It’s always good to see new authors. Giving exposure to new authors was the original aim of Leg Iron Books and although we haven’t managed to make anyone famous yet, we have definitely found some new talent.
This anthology is filled with tales of Christmas. Some light reading and some… really quite dark. In some of our heads, the old gods still rumble at this time of year and the tales we tell are not always tales of light and joy.
However, we do have some authors who have not succumbed to the Dark Side of Writing as yet, and their work somewhat ameliorates the work of those of us that even Dr. Seuss’ Grinch would say are grumpy.
Which stories are light and which are dark? I won’t say. I don’t want to spoil the surprises. Oh, there are surprises. I could name a story that seems dark and gloomy but has a happy ending. Or a story that seems perfectly ordinary until near the end. I won’t.
There are a few you will have to categorise for yourself. They may appear light to some and dark to others. You won’t know until you read them.
I won’t delay you further. Delve into Christmas, delight in the Lights and maybe shiver a little in the Darks.
Always remember that Santa is watching.

 

Light stories and dark stories and some that really could be taken either way.

If all goes according to plan, it should be on Amazon by Friday.