6/29/2020

SmartPig Chapbooks Series, #1, "Dog is My Co-Pilot"

I'd never heard of, or thought about, chapbooks before learning about them while at Goddard, in pursuit of my MFA.


Chapbooks are simply tiny books. They're normally 20-40 page collections of poetry, fiction, essays, or some mix of a couple of things. I've decided to release a series of chapbooks based on an assortment of short stories that I love, but that haven't, to date, fit in any of the full-length books I'm working on.

My original plan was to follow an older chapbook tradition of printing, binding, and distributing the books by hand (well, by printer, stapler, and coffeeshop anyway), but Covid-19 got in the ways of those plans, so I'll be producing and distributing them through Amazon's KDP (Kindle Desktop Publishing).

I've gone this way with a number of my books for many reasons, the main ones being:
  • zero initial outlay of cash
  • ease of publishing in print and ebook formats
  • reach for readership
I continue to hear horror stories about writers talked into paying thousands of dollars to publish their work, boxes of which end up living in their basement, only appreciated by mold and mildew and mice. It takes very little time and effort to set up your new book for FREE using Amazon's publishing tools, including a free ISBN for your book.

At the end of the process, you upload a pdf or doc document, formatted to their specifications, and can have it produced in print, ebook, or both.

The real winner for me, as I imagine it would be for most writers, is the reach that Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla of the publishing world, has to offer for you and your book. My first book, Here Be Monsters, has sold about 10,000 copies worldwide since publication in 2013. I got feedback from a reader in Australia who was reading the print version within a month of hitting the "SUBMIT" button on KDP, and one day a few years ago sold a few dozen copies in Amazon's Indian market (I like thinking about a huge bookclub in Delhi discussing my Adirondack Murder Mystery).


I've gathered nine stories that I love into a collection for the chapbook, and have put them together in a preliminary ordering for my beta-reader to look over. The collection, as it stands now, is seventy-seven pages, a touch long for a chapbook, but if all nine stories work together and feel right to me and my readers when we're done, I won't worry about it.

My aim is to produce this chapbook, to learn about the process and feel through experimentation, and then to follow this one up with three more short collections of short fiction that all share some common theme.  My plan is to produce and sell the chapbooks through Amazon for under $5 for a print copy, and for 99¢ for the ebook version.


The cover above was produced using the KDP "Cover Creator" software, which is free and formats the text and images to fit the cover size that you select for your book... I'm a big fan because it's free, it's relatively easy to use, and I think it yields nice looking covers (disclosure: all of my books have made use of the KDP cover creator, and I like the way they look).

If you're interested, and/or have questions about the chapbook or how I use KDP, please feel free to get in touch with me... I'll try to answer your questions, and if they seem to have a broad appeal, I might address them in a blog entry.

Thanks for reading! - JS

6/10/2020

My Ten Things....

My Ten



I recently read an article about Yo-Yo Ma, and how he's getting through the pandemic and isolation... it's a brilliant piece and he's an astonishing man, gifted and generous and kind and compassionate and thoughtful in multiple senses of the word.

(picture from NYT)


The article is titled: "Yo-Yo Ma Tries to Bring Us Comfort and Hope" (click the link to check it out).

A part of the article was his discussion about ten things that have helped him through the weeks, and months, of isolation and stress... I liked his list, and the thought behind it, enough that I worked to generate my own, which I'm sharing below.


  1. My family. Starting and ending the day with my wife, checking in with my son throughout the day, talking with my sister and parents on the phone… all these things make me feel secure that in a world I have very little control over, my social cornerstones are still there.

  2. My tortoises. I live with five tortoises, a Redfoot Tortoise, a Hingeback Tortoise, a Black Mountain Tortoise, and two Russian Tortoises. Without me, specifically, they’d die; that’s an awesome responsibility in every sense of the word. The daily and weekly routines associated with their caretaking grounds me.

  3. My Dogs. Puck and Olive love me. They think I’m a much better person than I am, which constantly pulls me towards that better Jamie. Gail and Ben could (and often do) care for them, so in a very real sense, the dogs give me much more than I give them. Puck normally sleeps spooned up with me (he’s the big spoon), and Olive checks in on me on a schedule of her own devising throughout the day and night, delivering kisses and flea-bites as she perceives that I need them.

  4. My friends. I’m not as good a friend as I should be. I always mean to do better at the little things that maintain friendships, but they fall out of my head before long. As a result (possibly by unconscious or subconscious design), I don’t have a lot of friends. The ones I have managed to keep over the years are special and interesting people all over the world and hearing from them via FB or email or Teams meeting or the occasional phone call keeps me tethered to “The Outside World” in a way that the previous three things cannot. Friends are the $20 bills in your jeans pockets that mother-time steals when you let her do your laundry.

  5. Music. Spotify is one of the drugs I use to maintain my sanity in the sea of craziness that the USA has become at the intersection of pandemic and race-riots and our idiot-king. I curate and steal and hoard playlists like a junkie, secure in the knowledge that this one or that one will come in handy when my mood jumps (or is pushed) off a cliff. I firmly believe that music can help to reprogram my mental state and body-chemistry.

  6. Cooking. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen since we locked out the rest of the world. A sourdough pretentiously named Prometheus has been a big part of recent experiments, but I’ve also been making pizzas from scratch, a Mexican hot sauce based on a Korean hot sauce, and fermented foods and drinks of all kinds. It’s a pleasant and useful distraction from worries about the things we all worry about, and utilitarian, since we can’t go out to eat (it’s amazing how much we used to eat out or order in).

  7. Writing. Of course, who knows why I waited until number seven to talk about writing. I write every day, some for sharing online, some for future publication, some just to let off steam from a pressure valve that otherwise might sail past the redline and end up in some cartoony explosion. I’m working on a novel along with a quartet of novellas, a quartet of chapbook collections of shorts, and a couple of individual stories that don’t fit anywhere else.

  8. News Aggregators. I read a lot of news. Lots of the news these days is depressing or fake or horrific or repetitive, so I use a number of news aggregators to filter and sort my news for me. I like reading a bit about Covid-19, a bit about the POS-POTUS, along with lots of articles about the environment, tortoises, cooking, writing, TV/movies, and a number of areas of interest… I get these things in nearly the perfect proportions from the apps I use.

  9. Reading. Besides news, I read a fair amount of fiction (not as much as I should, or would like to, but I keep meaning to fix that). I’ve found in the COVID months that I enjoy re-reading stuff I’ve enjoyed in the past. Good stories are a shelter I can climb down into and hide for as long as necessary, letting the words wash over my brain, soothing things, letting the lizard-bits at the base of my skull do the repaired necessary to keep me functioning another day/week/month.

  10. Drinking. I drink a lot. Certainly more water than anyone you likely know (thanks to Sj√∂gren's Syndrome), probably more coffee than you’d think, and perhaps less bourbon than you’d guess. The act of bringing liquids into my body is control, controlling metabolism and health and mood and energy with a simple sip or swallow.


I'd love to hear from you about what things (ten or otherwise) have helped you through the recent months... thanks for reading!

Be safe and healthy - JS