New book: ‘Venetian Springs’

I’ve got a brand new book on Amazon: Venetian Springs!

Two couples—one idealistic, one criminal.

A ruthless Mexican drug kingpin. A fortune in heroin and cash.

They all come together one night at a casino called Venetian Springs, in a high-stakes gamble that only a few of them will survive.

Preview Chapters:

Part I: Tuesday

Chapter 1

Mark Baxter was determined that he and his wife, Gina, were going to crack the nut of their household budget. 

Laid out on the kitchen table before them were a pile of bills, a desktop calculator, and a yellow legal pad.

Mark had drawn a line down the center of the top sheet of the legal pad, dividing it into two vertical columns. In the lefthand column, he had tallied up their monthly take-home pay. They were both second-year teachers at Ambrose E. Burnside High School, a school in the Indianapolis Public Schools district. 

In the righthand column he had listed their expenses: mortgage payments on the house, their college loans, groceries, utilities, and everything else.  

The total on the left was only slightly larger than the total on the right. 

That was a problem.

Gina, moreover, wasn’t paying attention. That was another problem. Her brown eyes kept darting to the open doorway between the kitchen and the rear hallway. She was twirling a length of chestnut brown hair between two fingers.

Gina had been distracted of late—and not just because of their perilous household finances. Mark knew part of the reason for her distraction; but he suspected that there was also something that she was keeping from him.

Why would Gina be looking toward the rear hallway?

The rear hallway of the house terminated at the back door. Gina was probably thinking about the intruder again.  

Mark didn’t believe in the intruder, and Gina did.

That was yet another problem.

In recent weeks, Gina had become convinced that someone was entering their house during the daytime hours, when they were both teaching classes at the high school.

She claimed to notice that some items in the house were slightly awry, as if an outsider had been rifling through them. Closet and cupboard doors were left ajar at unfamiliar angles.

Or so Gina had claimed.

Mark had taken his wife’s concerns seriously—at first. He checked all exterior doors and windows for any sign of a break-in or tampering. 

And he had found nothing. 

Mark also pointed out that the supposed burglar had not taken any of their few possessions that were actually worth stealing: the laptop they used jointly, the antique brooch that Gina had inherited from her Grandma Tortelli, etc. 

Even the cigar box, the most obvious target for a thief, had been left intact. This was the old Dutch Masters box that they kept atop the dresser in their bedroom. It always contained between fifty and a hundred dollars of emergency cash. 

Any self-respecting thief would have taken the cigar box, Mark observed. 

But the thief had not taken the cigar box, nor anything else—so far as either of them could ascertain.

Mark therefore concluded that there was no thief, no intruder. 

“Earth to Gina,” Mark said. He waved his hand from side to side in the air, as if trying to rouse her from a trance. 

“I heard something,” Gina said. “At the back door.”

“Oh, no. Don’t tell me that one of the problem students at Burnside has followed us home again.”

She didn’t laugh at the obvious joke. She flinched, in fact. 

Mark wondered: Was one of the students at the high school in fact bothering her? Was that her problem?

“I’m telling you, Mark, I heard something back there.”

The damn intruder again. Mark rarely spoke a cross word to Gina, but he was getting fed up with talk about the nonexistent burglar. Whatever else was going on, there was no evidence that anyone had been inside their house.

“Gina,” he said gently, “I don’t think—”

And then Mark heard it, too. Continue reading “New book: ‘Venetian Springs’”

The end of Lonely Planet?

Here’s one more casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting shutdowns around the world: most (or many) of the titles published by Lonely Planet Publications.

I have many Lonely Planet books in my personal library—most of them purchased during the 1990s, when I was studying various foreign languages and traveling abroad frequently for business.

As the hyperlinked article notes, these are tough times for any business associated with travel or tourism.

**View Lonely Planet Guides on Amazon.

The ETB Online Books Project

Like all of you, in recent weeks I have been more preoccupied than usual with current events. As a result, the content here since mid-March has focused on the daily news.

The name of this site, though, is Edward Trimnell Books. I chose that name for a reason. Commentaries on the news will always have a place here. (I’m rather opinionated, as you may have noticed.) That said, this site isn’t, strictly speaking, a news site.  I primarily write books, many of which you can find on Amazon

This is a business for me. I’m an author, of course; but I’m also a micro-publisher.

Nevertheless, these are tough times for many readers. The COVID-19 shutdown has cut US economic activity by about a third. Unemployment now hovers at an unbelievable 18%. Hopefully the economy will be reopened soon, and the raw numbers will improve. Many people, though, will need time to recover from this unprecedented interruption to normal life.

In light of these highly unusual circumstances, I would like to make all of my books available to readers for free.

This is already the case with most of my existing library, if you’re a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program

I realize, though, that Kindle Unlimited won’t be the right option for some of you. And as much as I love Amazon, people were reading online long before anyone ever heard of a Kindle. 

One of the purposes of a website is to provide free online content. Without something for people to read, a website is nothing more than a glorified online brochure.

That’s what all too many websites are. I’ve always wanted this site to provide more to the reading community—especially in times like these.

I initially explored the idea of making more of my existing catalog available here on the site. The problem, though, is that I can’t make content freely available to you here, as well as in the Amazon Kindle Unlimited program. Amazon requires that all Kindle Unlimited titles be exclusive to the Amazon platform (in electronic form). I am bound by the terms of that contract, and I intend to abide by it. 

So I had another idea…

The Edward Trimnell Books Online Books Project

I’ve therefore decided to start making some titles available here on the site exclusively—or in advance of bookstore publication. These will not be serials, technically speaking, but I’ll be posting them a chapter at a time, as I write them. And you’ll be able to read them here for free. 

I have several titles in mind for the first round of online books. These will be a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. The fiction books will span several of the genres that I usually write in (thriller, horror, mystery). I also have some short stories planned.

And for those of you who have enjoyed all the news commentaries over these past few weeks, fear not: At least one of the titles I have in the works concerns politics. But whereas the daily blog posts typically deal with ephemeral headlines, the upcoming book one will dig deeper and involve more theory. 

The plan is to serialize several diverse titles at once, so that at least one of them will be something you’ll be interested in reading. As I say on ETB’s About page , I don’t expect anyone to like everything posted on this site, but everyone should be able to find at least something that they like. That’s one of the advantages of a variety format.

How can you support the Online Books Project?

No, this isn’t a prelude to asking you for money.

Some sites that provide free content immediately turn around and panhandle you at every turn—usually via requests to support them on Patreon. 

I don’t necessarily have a philosophical opposition to Patreon (or similar crowdfunding intermediaries, like Kickstarter). I’ll probably put up a Patreon page eventually, for readers who would like to voluntarily contribute. But if I’m going to make that an upfront requirement, I had might as well just put everything on Amazon first. A Patreon paywall is still a paywall.

***

But I still have bills to pay, just like everyone else. Can free content work with paying the bills? In part, yes. 

One of the really cool things about online content is that “free to the reader/viewer” need not mean “unpaid to the creator/publisher”. This principle goes all the way back to the origins of the Internet-as-we-know-it, in the 1990s.

In the beginning, at least, the Online Books Project will be sponsored the old-fashioned way: through the placement of a few unobtrusive ads.

Some of these ads will be for my books on Amazon. If you really like what you read here for free, consider purchasing a book of mine that isn’t part of the Online Books Project. You may also want to purchase an edited, proofread version of a book that appears online first. But that’s totally up to you.

***

The Online Books Project will also be sponsored (sparingly) by banner ads and affiliate links to third-party products. I don’t fundamentally have any difficulty with the idea of supporting free content with third-party ads. That’s what newspapers, magazines, and television have done since time immemorial. 

Online ads have (not without some justification) gotten a bad rap in recent years. That’s because some sites have totally overdone the concept.

The online versions of The Independent and USA Today come to mind here. These sites are littered with dropdown full-screen ads, autoplay video ads, and many more extremely intrusive forms of advertising. 

Edward Trimnell Books is old-school all the way. Just like I hate social media (why would anyone want to bother with Snapchat or TikTok?), I’m also allergic to newfangled forms of online advertising. I keep the ads here low-key, like they were up till about 2003. 

***

Those are my basic ideas about the Online Books Project.

I’ll be posting new content and new chapters daily, more or less, so check back often!

Dean Koontz and COVID-19

Dean Koontz has been an incredibly prolific writer. There are now people saying that he is also a prophetic one.

Ok, this is weird….

Koontz’s 1981 novel, The Eyes of Darkness, apparently describes a “pneumonia-like illness” called “Wuhan 400” that will “spread throughout the globe” in 2020, per the above pages.

(Note: I saw this in my Facebook feed. I have read several of Dean Koontz’s books, but not this one. So I’m assuming that the pages photographed above are authentic.)

I’m going to call this a coincidence. But I’m also going to call it a very odd series of coincidences: A nearly forty-year-old novel predicting a global pulmonary disease that originates in Wuhan China in 2020 is arguably just a few too many coincidences for comfort. 

No wonder this all-but-forgotten Reagan-era book is now a bestseller on Amazon.

Penguin Random House’s epic Black History Month failure

In a move of colossal stupidity that is sure to produce anger and/or eye-rolls from all quarters, Penguin Random House is arbitrarily changing the covers of old literary classics to depict African American characters in the places of white ones. They are doing this to demonstrate how “woke” they are during Black History Month. 

I have to agree with KJ below: Why not just promote African American authors during Black History Month?

Update: The publisher has since canceled the “diverse” classic editions, following a backlash.

Good for them. This was a really dumb publicity stunt. It could only have come from the minds of self-congratulating white progressives, who are always eager to use African Americans for their own virtue-signaling purposes.

Mark Dawson, self-publishing, and Amazon ad spends

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how rising ad costs are leading to the reconsolidation of the indie publishing space. As the market for indie published novels has become over-saturated, indie publishers are relying more and more on advertising to gain visibility for their books.

This has coincided with Amazon’s decision to compete with Google and Facebook for the multi-billion-dollar online advertising market. And Amazon, like Google and Facebook, owns Internet real estate where many parties want to place virtual billboards.

This has inevitably given rise to new forces of consolidation: Many authors are joining cooperatives (otherwise known as content mills). On the ad side, ad brokerage firms like AMSAdwerks have arisen. For a monthly fee, these companies will manage the day-to-day, hour-to-hour complexities of managing large ad spends on the Amazon platform.

This is a far cry from indie publishing as many people envisioned it a decade ago—solo author-entrepreneurs putting their books up for sale, and readers organically finding them. What we are seeing now in indie publishing is the peak of a bubble economy—not unlike the dotcom bubble that occurred at the turn of this century.

Rising ad costs are a major factor behind the bubble; and they’ll likely be the factor that finally bursts the bubble, leading many indie authors to either quit, or resign themselves to being hobbyist/weekend authors.

Oh, and Kindle Unlimited is also a factor. Kindle Unlimited has trained readers to devalue books, and authors to compete on sheer volume.

In recent years, the formula in indie publishing has been: a.) write a long series b.) dump that whole series into KU, and c.) spend heavily on advertising, in the hope that KU page reads exceed advertising costs.

To be sure, some extremely successful indies and writer collectives have been making this formula work; but even the big dogs of indie publishing are now starting to balk at high advertising costs.

Case-in-point: Mark Dawson, the author of the bestselling John Milton series, revealed that he spent $500,000 on Amazon Media Group ads alone in 2019. Even Dawson (who also runs a popular ads course for authors) calls this amount “ridiculous”.

Dawson also noted (in a roundabout manner) that the high ad spends now necessary on Amazon amount to a sort of double payment to the retailer. All Amazon vendors (which is all indie authors are) pay Amazon a commission on goods sold on the platform. When we pay for Amazon-based ads, that represents another payment. (Or, if we buy ads on Facebook, etc, we’re subsidizing Amazon’s traffic.)

Such are the realities of the “pay-to-play” model that has emerged in recent years. To be clear: There is nothing sinister or fraudulent about any of this. This is simply supply-and-demand at work.

Amazon owns the most successful retail platform in the world. The company has learned that in some sectors (like indie fiction publishing) it can often make more money from an eager seller willing to buy advertising, than it can from a customer who might purchase that seller’s product.

Indie authors are now becoming a significant profit center for Amazon. Some, to be sure, are making money for Amazon by selling large numbers of books. But more, I suspect, are making money for Amazon through their purchases of Amazon ads.

‘American Dirt’ and another kowtow to the Internet mob

Yet another example of cancel culture in action. The book tour of Jeanine Cummins, author of the novel American Dirt, has been cancelled after the backlash of an Internet social justice mob.

What’s the issue? Apparently a woman who is not of Mexican heritage is not allowed to write a novel about Mexican migrants. 

Or so the mob declares. 

***

Update: 124 relatively unknown authors have signed an open letter to Oprah Winfrey, asking Oprah to abet the book-burning project.

I’m not familiar with the majority of the authors. Quite a few of them, though, seem to be authors of competing books (also about the Mexican migrant experience) that have not achieved similar commercial success.

A hint of the green-eyed monster, perhaps?

Make of that what you will.

Chirpbooks

I just bought my first audiobook at Chirpbooks.com—a title by Karin Slaughter, for $0.99.

Chirp offers a constantly changing selection of audiobooks at steep, limited-time discounts. I downloaded their listening app. So far, so good. It’s easy to use and the listening experience is quite good. 

Based on what I’ve been reading online, the reaction to Chirp within the writing and narrating community has been mixed.

On one hand, there is a long overdue need for a viable competitor to Audible. From the consumer’s perspective, Audible’s membership is somewhat expensive and restrictive. From a creator’s standpoint, it’s inflexible; and the entire setup makes it difficult for indie creators to compete with big names from New York publishing houses. 

On the other hand, I have seen some concerns that Chirp represents a “race to the bottom”—which has certainly occurred in the ebook market (thanks in no small part to Kindle Unlimited).

I don’t think that is Chirp’s agenda, though. Chirp offers only a limited number of discounted titles at any given time. This doesn’t seem to be an effort to lower all audiobook prices to $0.99, or even $4.99.

Chirp will, I believe, find the most traction among audiobook users who have very broad tastes, and who are willing to exercise flexibility in what they listen to. These are the listeners who probably would have been getting most of their audiobooks at the library, anyway. 

But if you want the latest title from a bestselling author, the odds are high that you’ll still have to buy it at full price—and probably from Amazon/Audible.

New on Amazon: ‘I Know George Washington’

Available FREE for subscribers of Amazon Kindle Unlimited:

($3.99 for non Kindle Unlimited subscribers)

I Know George Washington and other stories: five dark tales

View it on Amazon!

Five dark tales of crime, supernatural horror, and suspense…

In Tennessee, a father and his adolescent daughter must battle two evil men who harbor sinister intentions toward one of them.

In Zacatecas, Mexico, a recent college graduate takes a job as a private English language tutor for a wealthy family. But the entire household is hiding a horrible secret.

In Virginia, a young stockbroker’s colleagues insist that George Washington, the First President of the United States, is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

In rural Ohio, curiosity compels two travelers to stop at an abandoned schoolhouse with an evil history, and a reputation for ghostly activity.

In western Pennsylvania, a junior high student learns that his beloved teacher is not what he purports to be. 

A collection of five unique stories, each of which contains an unexpected twist.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the stories in this collection:

“The Van”: While traveling through Tennessee, a single father and his 13-year old daughter encounter two men who take an unwholesome interest in one of them. 

“Thanatos Postponed”: A recent college graduate takes a job as a private tutor at the estate of a wealthy businessman in Zacatecas, Mexico. But there is something horribly wrong in the palatial residence high in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. 

“I Know George Washington”: A young man’s new work colleagues insist that George Washington is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

“One-room Schoolhouse”: A young couple stop at an abandoned schoolhouse in rural Ohio. The schoolhouse is reputed to be haunted. 

“Mr. Robbie’s Secret”: a beloved English teacher is not what he appears to be. 

I hope you enjoy these stories.

The future of Amazon

From Motley Fool: Why Jeff Bezos Might Want to Break Up Amazon

There’s a case to be made here. Those of us who can remember when Amazon was nothing but an Internet bookstore never dreamed that it would become what it is today.

A planned breakup might make sense functionally.

From a political perspective, the success of Amazon’s model has earned the company detractors from both sides of the left-right continuum.

Think about it: Both Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump have criticized Amazon in recent years. And those two agree about almost nothing.

Harper Collins and Kindle Unlimited

When you think “Kindle Unlimited”, you probably think “small press and indie publishers”.

That may be about to change.

Harper Collins has recently decided to test the waters in Amazon’s subscription service. The Big Five publisher will enroll several thousand of its backlist titles into Kindle Unlimited in the UK and Australia on an experimental basis.

In and of itself, this doesn’t really mean much. A big publisher like HC owns the rights to thousands of books, after all–some of which barely sell.

The indie publishing community is presently divided about the costs and benefits of Kindle Unlimited. I don’t look for New York publishing houses to embrace KU in a major way anytime soon. If a book is capable of selling, they want to sell it, not enroll in it in Amazon’s per-page payment system.

Not that I’m against the Big Five jumping into KU, mind you. If Harper Collins, Penguin, and the other major publishers were to make Kindle Unlimited a regular part of their strategy, they might be successful in negotiating an end to the exclusivity clause of the program.

Walmart vs. Amazon

And some encouraging numbers for Walmart.

I love Amazon, both as an independent publisher, and as a customer of the retail giant.

But monopoly is generally a negative phenomenon, whether we’re talking about oil companies, search engines, or online retailers.

I only wish that Barnes & Noble would give Amazon a run for its money too, specifically in the online book market. But that doesn’t seem likely under the new management there.