New Home, New Look, New Approach

Officially, here it is:

My new fiction website is launched!

ejohnlovebooks.com is the new focal point for my works of fiction, including Owe Nothing, my novel about Jack Owen’s life in Vancouver.

On my new site, I’ve tried to provide you with an introduction to myself and my background, both as a writer and as a designer. Of course, there are descriptions of my first novel, Owe Nothing, including reviews from readers.

This site is built around the WordPress blogging platform, which means that it will always stay well-organized, be easy to search and navigate, and be easier to keep updated with new information.

Now, to get the word out, and make ejohnlovebooks.com into  the destination that it needs to be!

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To Blog, or To Blog More Often…

It’s not even a question, but, it’s a lesson that I need to take to heart and to practice, if I’m going to increase the visibility of my novels in the online world.

Blogging is the one of the easiest ways to create new web content, and blogs are often better designed for search engine optimization and linking.

Bottom Line: To help improve your traffic, you need to blog meaningfully, and frequently.

This article from HubSpot describes some adhoc research that bears out the concept:
HubSpot.com: Want More Web Traffic? Blog More Often!

Some of the reader’s comments in this article remind you that Twitter can be a useful promo method as well (e.g. Post a blog article, and then tweet about it to help draw traffic to it).

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Owe Nothing: Taking Writing and Marketing to the Next Level…

Ah, Spring. A time for growth, renewal, and positive change. And spring cleaning.

My personal web presence at www.ejohnlove.com has been in play since 1998, and over the years, it has been the home of all of my online personal shrines and pet projects, not the least of these is “True Life”, my personal family memoirs project.

Creating Characters, and a world…

In 2002, during a particularly bleak period of unemployment, I reacted to my frustration and lack of control with a familiar and comfortable escape into fiction. However, instead of reading spy novels, comics or graphic novels, I began my first attempts at writing fiction. Scribbling in my notebook on the edge of my bed during the late nights and early morning hours, I created a cast of characters and a world through which I could tell stories that spoke about the events and values of my personal life.

I created a mythical family and friends – composites based upon real people. Jack Owen and his family, friends, his motel home, and his fictionalized Vancouver-Kingsway neighbourhood all resulted from this. After seven years, countless Starbucks runs, and seemingly endless paragraph-by-paragraph writing and editing sessions, my first novel, Owe Nothing, finally came into being in April 2009.

September through October of 2002 turned out to be an incredibly productive time for me. Not only then did I begin writing the first scenes of Owe Nothing, but I also developed basic outlines for many of the characters who appear in the novel, and a few who don’t.  This burst of activity, seemingly automatic in nature, spurred further ideas for related stories, all of which could occur at different times within the same world as Owe Nothing. I was sketching out a new world inside my dog-eared, spiral-bound notebook.

My second novel, The Two Sisters (currently in progress towards a first draft), was originally sketched out as a short story outline in 2002. Not long after Owe Nothing launched online with Trafford in April 2009, I revisited my notes for Two Sisters and started trying to flesh out the story. It was around this time that I realized that I might actually have a second novel in me, and maybe even a third one after that. I realized that this fiction writing thing was starting to become a major preoccupation, and that perhaps I should consider developing it into more of an occupation.

Taking my book marketing to a new level…

In the first year since the publication of Owe Nothing, I’ve confined my marketing and sales efforts to anything I can accomplish online, particularly in some sort of semi-automatic manner. From this came a Facebook page, AdWords ads, one hundred Twitter tweets, and promoting and linking my old fiction page (http://fiction.ejohnlove.com) in directories, blogs and message boards all over the web. I tried a number of tactics. While these may have helped somewhat to get me web visitors, none of them seemed to result in any actual sales (if Trafford’s records are to be believed, anyway). I began to feel as if I were flailing around ineffectually, so I decided to find myself some good advice.

Nowadays, I’m taking counsel from a book marketing pro, and thinking more about the future of Jack Owen, the character, and of E. John Love, his official biographer. It has become the right time to move Jack and the “Owe Nothing Universe” off of my personal hobby site, and to develop a separate new web presence – one that gives Owe Nothing and any related stories the focuses they need and deserve.

It’s time…

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Owe Nothing: Two Reviewer’s voices help me to listen to my own…

Read sample chapters or purchase Owe Nothing online

In January, I entered an excerpt from my novel, Owe Nothing, in the 2010 ABNA Amazon Fiction Contest. I held no expectations of success – at least that’s what I told myself going in. There were 5,000 entries along with me, in the General Fiction category – to me, it seemed like a big field.

In March, I learned that Owe Nothing had succeeded to the next round, along with 999 other contestants. I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t happy about that!

The underlying question motivating me to enter a contest like this must have been ” How good is my book, really?” I spent years writing it, paragraph by paragraph, with little to no outside input as the first draft came together.

I finally started getting feedback in April 2008, after Owe Nothing was finally published. I would never disparage the opinions of the readers who’ve been kind enough to offer me their feedback on it. They went cover to cover, as far as I can tell, and seemed to enjoy the story, and I appreciate that. Most of the feedback I’ve received has been enthusiastic and positive, and I must say, gratifying or even comforting. But, my eyes are open – Steinbeck, I ain’t. I tell myself that I can see myself clearly, and that I’m a relative babe in the woods in the world of fiction.

All the same, I was a bit disappointed to learn in March that I’d not advanced to the next round in the ABNA contest. 500 writers advanced, and I was not among them. I shrugged this off, swallowing a tiny dose of disappointment.

To set the scene for the reviewer’s comments, the excerpt I submitted was from the second or third chapter, where the main character, Jack, and his pal, Parm, have been called into their boss’s office at the Paradise Car Wash. Their boss, Bill, wants to recruit them into a covert group of evening vigilantes called “The Insiders”, who are engaged in spying and courier operations all over greater Vancouver. Parm and Jack are not convinced by Bill’s offer, so Bill plays them a recording from a man called “Ed”, who explains their mission in idealistic, somewhat moralistic terms that resonate with Jack more than Parm.

After this, Bill takes them out to his storage shed behind the car wash and shows them the bullet-riddled car that belonged to the last operative – a man who’d recently left his employ very abruptly. Bill might have been trying to discourage them with this evidence.

Later, away from Bill’s office, Jack and Parm have a long discussion about the risks and benefits of joining the Insiders, and the possible motives of their handlers.

A few days after learning that I’d been eliminated from the ABNA competition, I received an email from the contest advising me that there were reviews written about my submission. I was curious to know what the judges or reviewers of the ABNA contests thought, so I went online to read them. Having been written by ‘Professional Reviewers’, I knew Iwould give their feedback some weight. Plus, I was waaaay curious to read what they had to say.

The first review from ABNA said that the “dialogue between the two individuals trying to figure out whether to take the vague offer to do the angel’s work ” was the strongest aspect of the piece, and that the weakest was “the recorded voice giving directions and reassuring the operatives that they’re doing good”, which was considered to be “very reminiscent of the TV show Charlie’s Angels”. This reviewer felt that Owe Nothing was “good, well-written” and “creates some tension, but I’m not quite sure where it is going at this point”.

The second review from ABNA said that the excerpt “has trite dialogue with phony dialect and inflection”, and felt that the story was unoriginal, too focused on the inner monologue of one character, and too derivative of “tough guy, private eye fiction”.

The reviewer that gave the more positive review seemed curious about how the story would progress. The other reviewer was turned off, and not interested in reading the rest of the story.

Now, some personal admissions of my own:

  • I have steeped myself in old-school “tough guy, private eye fiction” over the years, particularly the now dated, but undeniable masters of the genre, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
  • Contemporary writers like Brad Smith and Elmore Leonard have also been influential.
  • To a certain degree, I have consciously set out to write like them. Perhaps that’s just a symptom of a novice in a beloved genre. It’s fair to ask myself if this emulation serves the story or just serves my own personal enjoyment.
  • I do indeed write to amuse myself, first and foremost.

I must also admit that after I wrote that scene in Bill’s office, I did chuckle at the similarity to “Charlie’s Angels”. Looking back, maybe this was a kind of vague parody – a tongue-in-cheek homage to aspects of low-brow TV detective fiction that could have subliminally influenced me.

I’m fairly philosophical about this kind of feedback. Some people dislike low-brow dialogue (or perhaps more accurately, dated, or poorly-executed low-brow dialogue), and some accept it. I really don’t take myself all that seriously, but I’ll admit that the first few chapters of Owe Nothing are written with less confidence and more self-consciousness than the rest of the book. Maybe I shouldn’t try too hard to make characters (or the voice of the story) sound a certain way.

I pondered all this while watching “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, Steve Martin and Carl Reiner’s hilarious tribute to (and parody of) 40s tough guy detective movies. After I watched it, I did begin to notice that some of the idioms and colloquialisms uttered by Raymond Chandler’s character, “Philip Marlowe”, in his novels seemed a bit overdone, or too much of their time.

I think that all feedback can be potentially positive if you can learn something useful from it. I’m going to keep on studying, and keep on writing. Jack Owen has a few more stories to tell, and if he keeps at it, they will probably get better and better.

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Owe Nothing has Advanced in Amazon’s 2010 Breakthrough Novel Awards

A good start: I’m excited to report that Owe Nothing is now one of 1000 entries that has advanced to the second round in Amazon’s 2010 Breakthrough Novel Awards!

This fiction contest is sponsored by Amazon and Penguin USA. I’ll keep you posted…

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Owe Nothing, reviewed by Apex Reviews

On February 23rd, Owe Nothing received a great review from Apex Reviews:

You can download the full review here.

[callout title=”Reviews Callout”]”With an effective balance of wit and suspense, Owe Nothing is an equally compelling and entertaining read. In skillful fashion, author E. John Love has crafted an enjoyable tale of a lovable loser in search of a bit of adventure. In Jack, Love has created quite the sympathetic protagonist: a ne’er-do-well everyman with which readers from all backgrounds are sure to relate. An engaging, endearing tale with a deft humorous touch, Owe Nothing is a rewarding literary treat.”
– Renee Washburn, Apex Reviews[/callout]

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An excerpt from my next novel, “The Two Sisters”

The following little scene is from my second novel, a work in progress tentatively titled “The Two Sisters”.

This will be a sequel to my first novel, “Owe Nothing”. I hope you enjoy this little preview…

“Jack looked down at his plate, still preoccupied with thoughts of the Paradise Car Wash. He wondered what to eat next. The more he sat back and thought about the Paradise, the more crazy the whole thing seemed, as if the farther away he got from the place, the more different (and maybe more objective) his view of it became. The idea that a car wash could front for a secret operation which fed information to law enforcement (or god knows who else) sounded utterly fantastic and completely ridiculous. Car wash attendants acting as amateur field operatives – it was like something out of a bad novel, except it became all too real once he was hip-deep in some operation with Parm. As unlikely as it seemed, it had turned out to be financially rewarding and exciting work, and on more than one occasion, Jack had proven himself to be surprisingly adept at spying on people and appearing natural while recording the sights and sounds around him. Even though the idea of skulking around old warehouses or creeping down dirty alleys would never have appealed to him if anyone had suggested it, once he’d started doing the night-time work as one of Bill’s Insiders, he was amazed to learn that in practice, he got a huge rush when doing something that could be considered dangerous or even illegal. It was a weird thrill, and a guilty, secret pleasure.

Jim looked at his quiet son and wondered what was eating him, and why he was eating his dinner. Then Kelly noticed her Dad’s interest and looked over to Jack as well. “You’re not still working at that car wash, are you Jack?” she asked. Kelly had always tried to be supportive of her little brother, but it used to grate on him that she’d never thought very much of that job.”

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Real ink on paper? Where’s it going?

In my life, I wonder if ink on paper is slipping away from me, just a little bit. There’s something reassuring about a newspaper: you know what it is, it’s size and shape and depth are self-evident.

Yet, I now receive much more info each day on my Pre than I could ever read (or need to, for that matter). Online news text has replaced the newspaper for me. I have never subscribed to one of the local dailies, and rarely pick one up. I think that eventually, I’m going to do most of my reading on my handheld.

Podcasts (mostly the CBC) and MP3 music files have started to replace my radio. It seems like more motorists listen to the radio than others, these days. (I’m just guessing…)

The “convergence” that people have referred to in mass media is the tri-fold convergence of broadcast, print and computer technologies. At leat, that’s what I learmed back in Media Class, back in 1988. Like Vannevar Bush’s idea of a “Universal Machine”, computers and digital tech have co-opted, transformed and consumed the roles of older analog media. Digital is a medium for media, or a medium about other media. A meta-media?

Now, is the “convergence” truly occurring between my mind and the Internet? It seems like that digital immediacy that I’ve become used to in the past 5 years is the kinds of convenience that’s most likely to change my perception of the world around me.

http://www.cs.sfu.ca/CC/365/mark/material/notes/Chap1/VBushArticle/vbush-all.html

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Writing the novel was fun! Marketing it… not so much.

…but that’s life, right?

In my naivete, back in the heady days April 2009, I imagined that the act of publishing my novel “Owe Nothing” would automatically bring some level of attention, and – more importantly to me – some new readers.

Money is great, but to me, it’s a by-product of the other success: popularity.

Back in 2008, as I slowly reached the final editing stage and started thinking about the publishing process, I wondered how and if my little book would make some kind of splash in “the market”. I barely understood what “the market” is, much less had a plan for penetrating it successfully.

(Hm. Let me rewrite that last bit…)

…much less had a plan for joining it successfully.

(That’s better.)

A few things I’ve learned or opinions I’ve formed since April 17, 2009, when my book first went live on the Internet:

  • I probably expect too much from the webbed world, for my sporadic e-marketing efforts. As with my personal web projects, I am throwing a pebble into the sea, not a boulder. The initial splash and it’s ripples won’t be noticed amidst all the other motion of the ocean.
  • In many ways, it is the author or their personality or reputation that are being marketed, more than the work itself. Am I prepared to market myself in this way? I’ve certainly had a life worth telling. Is that the hook that will get people’s attention?
  • I only need between 100 to 1000 fans. There are, I don’t know, millions of authors out there, vying for attention! Good god – how would I ever be heard in a room that size? I am trying to find smaller groups, more targeted to me and my stories. “Sniper marketing”, instead of a weapon of mass promotion. (Gee, I hate that metaphor.)
  • Physically, books have a long lifespan. In popular terms, less so, unless you can stir up their relevance in some way. A book can be a flash in the media, and then linger in old age in discount bins and archives for many years. Maybe all I can hope for is that copies of my book will outlive me…
  • I want feedback, commentary and reviews. Me and my jangly nerves survived the critiques back in art school. I’m ready. This is all part of the growth and refinement process. But, I must go outand make an effort to solicit the feedback I need. It won’t come to me, and many ways, won’t come for free.
  • At the end of the day, the story’s the thing. I’m not in this to be a marketer or a salesman for my own wares. I’m in this to try and affect people and connect to them by telling my own story, thinly veiled behind some entertaining avatars.
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