Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Character Overview - Inspector Allhoff

Inspector Allhoff is a brilliant but twisted detective who had his legs blown off by a tommy gun, thanks to the cowardly actions of rookie flatfoot Battersly.

Allhoff is kept on the force as a consultant on his condition that Battersly act as his assistant.  Battersly stays on out of a sense of guilt, joined by our narrator Simmonds, a cop near retirement who acts as a buffer between the two.

Allhoff is a miserable wreck and constantly torments the man responsible for the loss of his legs.  I've seen the relationship described as sadomasochistic and Allhoff as psychopathic but for me this is oversold.  Allhoff is such a ham, after a while it has all the passive aggressive power of your mom trying to get a ride to the airport.

This would be good as the background of a more developed mystery or detective story, but the whining is about all there is room for in the short word count.  A typical story goes as such:

"Allhoff, there's been a murder."
"I'll solve it.  Go and get me clues.  I'd go, but I have no leeeeeegs, wah!"
Simmonds and Battersly get clues.
"I've solved the case now.  Please confess, as I don't have any real evidence."
"I did it!"

The first story I read was solved with a clue they didn't reveal and the second had the suspect from page one and the rest was tricking someone into confessing by convoluted means.  The action never left the apartment in either story.

Inspector Allhoff was created by D.L. Champion and appeared in Dime Detective Magazine from 1938-1945.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Spirit by Thomas Page

The Spirit
by Thomas Page
1977 Rawson Associates

This may be the first Bigfoot horror novel.  There was previously an Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators along with a novelization of the bigfoot episode of the Six Million Dollar Man, but I'm guessing those weren't especially horrific.  I was surprised it took this long in the crypto-crazy 70s for there to be a bigfoot horror novel, and there was only one other in the decade - Sasquatch by M.E. Knerr.

We start with a group of hunters chasing down the mythic beast.  They have bigfoot in their sights when a Indian downs their helicopter, killing all but one.

The surviving hunter continues the hunt, while the Indian (a Vietnam vet and mental ward escapee) is also following Bigfoot as his spirit guide, using a dog to communicate between them.

They all end up at a struggling ski resort.  The Indian teaches archery and the hunter makes exposition with an anthropologist that works the gift shop.  There's some kind of tangent about bigfeet having chromosomal damage from getting banged by trappers.

Just when the whole things seems to be completely running out of steam - bigfoot massacre!  Which is a good rule for fiction in general, I find.  Not quite as over-the-top as I like my bigfoot massacres, but enough to save the book.

There is no romance, not even a hint.  I don't know what's going on with that cover.

Get the paperback at Amazon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trash Menace Video - La Hija de Fu-Manch '72

Satan's Daughters by Othello Peters

Satan's Daughters
by Othello Peters
Zebra Books 1975

A woman in late pregnancy has her car break down on a rural road, late at night in the rain.  I hope that old farmhouse has a phone and not a bunch of witches that want to steal her baby's soul!

Despite the hammy set-up this works pretty well.  Pregnant lady is held hostage and tries to enlist the help of a couple of mentally disabled kids in the house.  The protagonist does a good job balancing being a frightened helpless victim while constantly attempting daring escapes.

Some good tension and suspense, and it gets genuinely nasty in parts.  A good, short read, which works, as the story couldn't fill up many more pages.

Available for Kindle at Amazon.

Read a sample.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Self Publishing - Price Matters

When I was in Junior High I would buy almost every comic Marvel put out.  I then limited myself to anything with Spider-Man, Punisher, or Wolverine, which was still pretty much everything.  I cut down again when comics went up to 75 cents, and dropped the habit completely when they got to a dollar.

Fast forward a few years.  I had caught the comic bug again and hit my old comic book store, ready to clean it out now that my paycheck dwarfed my old allowance.  Until I saw the price tag.

Even before considering inflation, the cover price had more than doubled.  You also got less value for money, as stories were being dragged out to six issues to fit them in trade paperbacks.

What I think happened to comics is that the audience had changed - or rather stayed the same.  Comics weren't being bought by kids - they were being bought (mostly) by men in their 30s, people like me that read them as kids.  The audience was shrinking but they also were becoming more affluent and demanded things like multiple covers, big panels, and glossy pages.

Me, I was happy to collect the giant, newsprint, phonebook style reprints Marvel and DC were putting out.  I could never understand who bought these limited edition hardcover reprints with useless extras, until I hung out at some IT guy's house and saw bookshelves of them.  All unopened.

A lot of the stuff I'm into has a limited audience, and a lot of that audience has money to burn.  If your total audience is 200 people and 150 of them are willing to shell out extra for a premium edition, it doesn't make financial sense to come out with a paperback edition.

Recently there were a lot of articles about how ebook sales for traditional publishers went down after they got Amazon to raise their prices.  Sounds like basic economics to me, but the publishers were flabbergasted.  Many of them had even previously gone on the record saying book price doesn't matter.

There is one pulp reprint company that only releases limited edition hardcovers.  Luckily, they're massive, so the price-per-story comes out reasonable, but I don't shop there a lot.  I don't care if it's cloth bound or signed (By who?  These authors have been dead for decades.)

I recognize there is a market for premium hardcover.

There is no such thing as a premium ebook.

At least, there shouldn't be.  People who collect and display these things, or grab them for the perceived resale value, are not interested in expensive ebooks.  In theory you could have a version with extras but people buy ebooks to read, not to put on their shelf.

I have a lot of pulp reprint collections in my Wish List on Amazon and I check it regularly for price drops.  I could tell one company was experimenting with prices.  Newer titles went from $5.99 to $7.99, then $9.99.  Then they had a $2.99 sale.  I went mental and got about twenty titles.  The price has leveled out at $4.99 to $5.99 and I noticed they have more premium physical printings.

I don't have their ledgers, but I think they figured out their sweet spot for ebook prices.  Other publishers, not so much.

Another company that puts out pulp reprints charges $6.99 a title.  I've bought a couple and have many more in my wish list.  A lot of the titles are less than 200 pages, and seven bucks is just too much for me.  They aren't on Kindle Unlimited and they're not available to be ordered by my library.  This tells me they went out of their way to make sure you pay that seven bucks or you ain't reading it.  Looks like I ain't reading it.

In this instance I do know a little about their sales because they complain about it on social media.   Yeah, don't complain about sales in your official social media channel.

The place seems to average way less than one copy sold a month per title.  The moan in question was about a month they made less than $200 for their couple hundred titles.  Checking some random Amazon rankings, it looks about right.  Some titles have never sold a copy.

Lower your damn prices!

You literally have nothing to lose.  You might go too low and miss the opportunity of selling at a higher price, but you'd have to sell something at all before you worry about that.  In this case I think it's sheer stubbornness.  I'll keep their titles in my Wish List, though, in case they wise up.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Man Who Returned by Edmond Hamilton

Edgar Allan Poe too cheery for you?  Here's a more depressing take on the premature burial theme.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bonegrinder by John Lutz

by John Lutz
1977 Putnam

Screw this book.  Even with the modern blurb it sells itself as a gory monster story.  It isn't.  It isn't horror.  It has elements of mystery and suspense, but not even really that.  It had a general vibe of rural-noir, but Blood Simple this ain't.  The author is better known for detective novels, where I would guess he would be more suited.

There are a series of killings attributed to an ill-defined lake creature that seems to be half sea monster, half bigfoot.  The local sheriff, a guilt-stricken widower who drinks too much, frets over monster chasers and tourists without really doing anything.  The mayor loves the publicity and a local eccentric has put out a reward.

We've got lengthy subplots about a photographer and his wife, a soon-to-be-divorced couple on their last vacation, and a journalist/folklorist who works for some kind of X-Files type federal department.

I'm just going to go ahead and spoil the heck out of this...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Supermen and Hard Luck

At the risk of turning into a Quentin Tarantino monologue, there are Marvel people, and there are DC people.

The distinction wasn't so great in later years, but it was especially pronounced in the Golden and Silver Ages.  DC was full of flawless, perfect, all-powerful, literal Supermen.  A good chunk of the Marvel roster didn't even have superpowers.  DC villains had to work extra hard to try to outwit the heroes, only to be overpowered.  Marvel heroes lost half their battles and had to use their brains to supplement their powers.

Case in point - Showcase #4, the first issue of the Silver Age Flash.  His first foe is the Turtle Man, the slowest man on earth.  His only super power is his deliberateness, which didn't serve him well against the guy that can run around the globe, through objects, go back in time, and do pretty much whatever he wants by vibrating molecules.

Even through recent decades, I find myself rooting for the bad guys in DC comics.  I like the underdog, and after a while Superman and Batman just come across as bullies beating up villains far weaker than them.

There are also a couple different kinds of plot styles.  Spider-Man cannot catch a break.  Far from being an adolescent power fantasy, he loses to the villain in the first half of the comic, beats them but fails to keep them from escaping in the second half, can't get the girl, has to put up with bullies, and barely manages to make enough money to cover his web formula.

In other stories, everything goes the hero's way.  Early Luke Cage comics were like this.  Seemed like every issue had him chained up in some kind of deathtrap.  How can he possibly escape?  By flexing his chest muscles really hard, it turns out.  Not much of a challenge.

We see the same trends in pulp heroes.  Before I actually read it, I was turned off by Doc Savage.  He's the Mary Poppins of pulp heroes - practically perfect in every way.  Every issue introduces something new that he's the world's best at.  However, the stories work because, despite being a god among men, everything goes wrong for him.  As Lester Dent put it, he kept shoveling grief on Savage, to the point that it challenges him and offers some suspense to the reader.

The Spider has even more problems.  Despite being called a Master of Men, his skills are nowhere near as refined as Savage, but his luck is even harder.  Nothing works out for him.  He'll spend half a chapter developing a ruse that his enemy immediately sees through.  Some books spend half the page length having him getting caught by the cops and his failing to talk his way out of it over and over again.  The Spider only succeeds out of the tenacity and grit of being a stone-cold psychopath.

Moving forward in time, a lot of the Men's Adventure heroes weren't especially remarkable, and they succeeded just from the plot moving forward the way they wanted.  Mack Bolan is skillful, but he's not the world's best at anything.  He triumphs largely because everything goes his way.  The enemy falls for every ruse and every plan comes together better than expected.  This works better in the Don Pendleton stories.  Bolan considers himself a dead man, and his dgaf attitude lets him take daring chances that pay off.

Many of the later Men's Adventure titles suffer as they start going more DC - swarmy heroes that are the best at everything and have everything go their way.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Trash Menace Gallery - Spicy Pulps

Discoverability Myths and Keywords in Titles

tldr version: putting keywords in the title increases discoverability, discoverability doesn't appreciably drive sales, and algorithms are weird.

Back in the days before Yelp and the internet, if you needed a plumber you opened the phone book and called the one with the biggest ad or the one listed first.  This is why so many plumbers were called things like "AAAAAAAAAuger Plumbing".

Indie authors do the same thing today with regard to keywords.  You're allowed 7 keywords, but in practice it's really as many as you can fit with 400 characters.  Using these 400 characters to accurately describe elements of a book is generally acceptable.  Using them to stuff as many popular keywords that have nothing to do with your book - "Romance Coming of Age Clean Menage James Patterson Shifter Horror Cozy Mystery Erotica Fantasy" - not so good.

And if you put the keywords in the freaking title and subtitle, there is a special place in hell reserved for you.  The title is supposed to be what the book is called - what is on the actual cover.

"Hey, I read a great book last weekend."
"Really, what's it called?"

That kind of thing.  It's against Amazon policy, and authors occasionally get an email telling them to change it.  There's a reason that people do that, and I tried to figure out if it works.

The idea is to improve discoverability.  For my example I used the keyword Horror.  There are 163,999 Kindle titles on Amazon related to horror, and just like poor Zany Zach's Plumbing, most of these folks are going to be buried deep deep down at the bottom.

Search ResultsSales RankSalesKeywords in Title
16no sales20y

Search Results: Rank of non-free titles in the order they appear using a keyword search sorted by relevance.
Sales Rank: Overall sales rank at Amazon, the lower the better.
Sales: In order of Sales Rank out of this list
Keywords in Title: Y means there is a keyword that isn't a part of the actual title, like "Horror: The Waffle House Massacre (Horror, Thriller, Romance)".  N means there isn't.  Something like "The Scarening: A Novel of Unrelenting Horror" or "Horror Tales for Tweens" gets an N as well, since it's organically part of the title or subtitle.

First a word about relevance searches.  The algorithm used is secret and probably a little messed up on purpose so folks can't reverse engineer it.  In theory this should show the most relevant, i.e. the most horror-y, results first, then sorted by popularity.  It actually works pretty well, as the shifter erotica doesn't show up for several pages.

Things change if you change the sorting preferences.  One would assume changing to "sort by price" would then by subsorted by relevance - in other words, the order of all the free books would stay the same between searches.  This is not the case - sort by price and all the dreck gets mixed back in.  I suspect it sorts by price, then popularity.

Back to our chart.  The first 20 books I picked happened to have 10 titles with keywords in the title and 10 without.  I noticed looking past 20 books that keywords got fewer and fewer.

Interestingly, only one title in the first 20 search results was in the top 20 paid bestsellers for horror.  This is 15 in our list, which was the 18th horror bestseller.  Another thing to keep in mind - Amazon has been accused of purposely pushing down titles from publishers that they're in a slap fight with.

Titles with keywords did much better in discoverability, taking 8 of the top 10 spots.  For sales, they did worse, taking only 2 of the top 10 spots.  Looking at overall Amazon rank, they did much worse.  Books without keywords had an average rank of 58165.  The book with no sales would rank over 2 million, so using that number, books with keywords had an average rank of 313,573.

Both sets had outliers, so if you take out the worst selling book of each, the difference is even more telling: 4816 without keywords, 126,192 without.

This tells us a few things.  Keywords in titles improve discoverability.  A low selling book gets displayed ahead of better selling books.  I'm going to zoom in on our worst selling book.  As of this writing it has not sold a single copy.  There are 16 keywords in the title, many of them duplicates.  The actual title has three words and "scream" is misspelled.  If you do a search for "horror", this book appears three pages before Stephen King.  Pretty awesome, right?

You missed the part where I said it had zero sales.

Now, an argument could be made that these books would sell even worse without keywords in the titles.  Maybe so, maybe not, though some couldn't sell much worse.  However, I think we can put to rest the myth that discoverability is the key to success.  There are several titles in the top 10 search results that maybe sell a title a month, while Stephen King is doing fine languishing on page 7.

Looking at it from the other direction, none of the top 100 paid horror titles start with a keyword.

Could the keywords in titles do more harm than good?  There's no way to tell from these numbers, but as a reader browsing through titles, I look at "HORROR SUSPENSE THRILLER" the same way I do "RESIDENT" on my mail.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Gagging Gialli

I haven't been able to find a massive cover gallery for Italian Gialli, but I've picked some up here and there.  Giallo means yellow, referring to the color of the cover of post-war mystery novels.  The term was later used to refer to Italian horror movies.  There's the usual damsel in distress and bondage themes, but there's another running theme I see here.


I'll let you make your own joke about loud Italian women.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Old Time Radio - Almost Human

Continuing a series of things you can get away with on radio that you couldn't anywhere else - yikes!  Robert Bloch wrote this one about a gangster, his moll, and an eight foot tall robot with the mind of a child.