Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dam the reading list. Dam it to heck.

"The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones." - John Wooden

I was incredibly pleased to see my notes on Shelf Life being passed around and hopefully made useful to a great many people.  There's just something, to a writer at least, about being read that is exhilarating and uplifting as all hell.

Speaking of that session, one thing I distinctly recall the owner of the bookstore on the panel said is that one way to rise above the chatter of authors trying to get their books featured in her store is to become a customer and thus develop a professional relationship prior to the pitch for shelf space.  She's right; we tend to do business with people we know more readily than with ones we don't.  Besides, what she was asking me to do ain't exactly a bad thing.

Visit a bookstore?  Why yes, I shall.

I hadn't been in a small bookstore in a while, to be honest.  I've gotten fed up with many book stores, as some of my past blog posts hint, and I tend to be working during the hours they're open anyway.  Thus, I'd sort of forgotten the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when I'm in one.

I went last night.  I had opportunity to leave work at a reasonable hour, anyway, and I didn't have the credit card on me, so I was safe.  "I won't buy much," I recall promising my wife as I told her where I was stopping off on the way home.

Much is the key word.  Not "I won't buy anything" but rather "I won't buy much."  I couldn't help myself.  I was the only customer in the store so I got to chat with the girl behind the counter for a while; that was fun.  She was really knowledgeable about the new works out, and she showed me the fairly small section of fantasy works, which is right next to (as one might expect) the sci fi works.  Sitting right there on the border between the two was a book with a day-glow cover (I don't know whether it's more rightly described as red or orange) titled How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.  It also had a little white sticker on it proclaiming "Staff Pick." I think there was also a sticker on it that said "Stephen, buy me" though I can't find evidence of that now. Gremlins, I say. 

Worst thing: I had enough cash in my pocket to pay for it. 

Ah, hell.

Well, I can't just leave it sitting there in the "to be read" stack.  It glows too dang bright.  I picked it up this morning and read the first chapter.  It's good.  I'm going to enjoy it.  I'm just not sure which book in my stack to continue enjoying first.

Right now, my RIP (Reading In Progress) stack is massive.  Keep in mind that I'm not talking about my To Be Read list at all.  No, these are all books that have book marks stuck in them.  How to Live Safely is one.  I'm also a couple of chapters into Storm Front, the first book in the Dresden series which I admit to reading for pleasure despite, or more accurately in addition to, my professional interest in how Butcher crafts the successful launch of a first-person fantasy series.  I'm still trying to get into the first book in Martin's Game of Thrones series, a task that is a skosh harder than I thought it would be.  Before I became a writer, Martin's book would've already been responsible for a paperback-sized dent in the opposite wall (and at 350K-ish words, it would fly really nicely), but these days I owe it at least the effort of slogging through what really is a commercially successful work.  Meanwhile, the memoir I mentioned yesterday, Brooks's Sometimes the Magic Works, is there and probably leading the pack since that book mark is well past the halfway page.  Oh, and Matterhorn is still waiting for me to re-kindle (*snort*) my interest in war memoir enough to pick it back up.

I've still got The Philosopher's Stone sitting there in the stack looking for yet another read when I need inspiration.  Can't forget HP. 

I need to either get a bigger shelf for the RIP stack or squelch the flow of books onto the stack until I have time to finish some that are already there.  That, and next time I go to the bookstore I need to leave both credit card and cash at home. 


PS--the bookstore in question, again, is Fountain Bookstore located in the Shockoe Slip area of Richmond, VA. And I was kidding about leaving cash at home; all who seek entry to Shockoe Slip must be prepared to leave an offering at the altar of the evil bitch-goddess known as Parking. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

More on Outlining

"I think writer's block is God's way of telling you one of two things--that you failed to think your material through sufficiently before you started writing, or that you need a day or two off with your family and friends." - Terry Brooks

When I think about it, being a Dean really isn't all that complex of a task.  There are X number of classes each term, each of which needs a competent faculty member at its helm.  Each class also needs between a and b competent (more or less) students sitting at the other desks.  Each class needs a classroom and certain equipment.  The data that needs gathering must be gathered on a specific schedule, and filed in a specific way, and reported to specific people at accrediting, licensing, and state approval agencies.  Then, depending on season, certain events need to be organized.

See?  Not that hard.

Despite the relative ease I had in rattling off the major stuff to worry about, the fact is that if you follow six different Deans around for a few days you'll see six different approaches to the job.  We all have different priorities and personalities, and each of us arrived at the position through a different professional path, so the variance is easy to understand.

But terminology also gets in the way.  I once had another educational leader, one whom I respect greatly, look at me in shock and ask, "How can you not run..." um--might as well call it the TPS report here, as that name will mean about as much as any other.  She was floored.  Shocked.  Flabbergasted. Flibberty-gibbeted, even! 

I don't need to run that report, because the calculator application I have will do the same thing.  Once I showed her my process and explained what I did, she and I both realized that we were really just using two different terms, with slightly different approaches, for the same process.  Nothing to get excited over.  Move along, people, move along.

All this brings me inexorably back to writing, as I'm sure you assumed it would eventually.  More specifically, it brings me back to one part of the writing process known as Outlining.

One of my current Reads In Process (a RIP?) is Terry Brooks's Lessons From A Writing Life: Sometimes The Magic Works.  It's good.  It's kind of the same thing Stephen King (the other one) did in On Writing, but Brooks has the advantage of writing in the same genre as me.  I plan on discussing more of its contents once I'm done RIPing it, but for now I'll just admit to being stuck on the topic of Outlining.

Everybody talks about Outlining.  To some, it's a great demon that eats away at a writer's time and creative energy.  To others, it's the bedrock that makes the story's pathways solid.  Brooks is in the latter group.  King is in the former.  To read Brooks quote King on the topic as he did in Sometimes the Magic Works, in fact, just tickles me.

Getting to the core of the question, though, I have to admit that I do Outline, just never in public for everybody to see.  Here's why:

Outlining has always, to me, meant to the process of grudgingly writing "I. Introduction" followed by a carriage return, and then "A. Opening Paragraph."  When I get sparky with it, I include some details in the outline on what that opening paragraph might do or say.  Problem is, once I'm all done with the work of crafting a Roman numeral-based structure for the work, I no longer have any desire to do the actual writing.  That's why I don't do it unless given the requirement by a classroom teacher.

Other writers feel the same, apparently.  Brooks quotes Terry McMillan and Anne McCaffrey, both, who share their disdain for the process of outlining.  This seems to be one of those things where if you follow half a dozen authors around for a few days--well, you'll probably be bored enough to eat your laptop, because writing is a much more quiet and solitary exercise than is running a college.  Still, I'll bet there'd be six different methods of Outlining represented if you managed it.

Part of that, of course, comes down again to terminology.  Brooks points out that an outline doesn't have to have Roman numerals.  All an outline is, he 'splains, is a method for organizing your book.  Oh, sorry--should be capital O Organizing.  A book, you see, is a fairly significant amount of prose and represents a fairly significant length of time when measured from start to finish.  Those of us who can't recall what we had for breakfast yesterday (and I exaggerate a bit, as I made a frittata, but still, the point is valid that my memory is--um, what was I talking about?) have a hard time remembering plot details that long.  Thus, I do Outline, and I have my scraps of paper with the outlined information on it floating around my desk happily waiting to be needed. And the only thing resembling a Roman numeral on the whole mess is actually the first person singular, objective pronoun. 

See?  Same thing, different approach.  It's just that my organization is a little less organized that some other people's organization is.

And it's probably not changing anytime soon.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where do the children play?

"Oh, I know we've come a long way, we're changing day to day, but tell me, where do the children play?" - Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens)

How's that quote for one out of left field?  Speaking of, "out of left field" is a phrase I've always been curious as to its origin.  I looked it up, and it really does have to do with baseball; people just aren't entirely certain how.  Some point out that a batter has the most power hitting to the opposite field, and most batters are right-handed (which matches the general population), so most of the time the left fielder has to stand farthest away from the action.  Anything "out of left field," then, is a skosh "out there."  Others point out that people running in to home have the left fielder at their back, so any throws from there to get them out are going to be surprises--"out of left field" as it were.  That's full of interestingness, no? 

But back to topic--I bet you're still wondering why I use a Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam lyric in place of my traditional author quote.

Well, first, I like his songs a lot.  Grew up on them, in part (yeah, at the same time, I can say I grew up on Bread, or Chicago, or Blood, Sweat, & Tears, or Blue Oyster Cult--pick one).  The work of Cat Stevens, who changed his identity to Yusuf Islam later on, has always touched me deeply.  Even back when my views were solidly on the right-wing side of the aisle, hearing "Where Do The Children Play?" would bring me to a stop to consider the environmentalist's commentary on humanity's plight.

Politics and flowers aside, though, the quote has a very real application to my writing efforts, specifically in the area of world-building.  You might have noticed that I designed the estate of Mars to not include much in the way of children's play areas.  That was on purpose.  The War God has several areas of his estate set aside, of course, for the study of combat and other martial pursuits.  No strangeness there; who needs children around when you're studying war? 

In the second book, though, readers will be introduced to a few other areas belonging to other gods.  Some are the same, while some are different.  Again, I designed each one purposely, as I'd imagine the god who owned it would have.  Hephaestus, for example, has his forge in the middle of a volcano (see?  I do pay attention to some mythology).  But he's also got his share of human followers, and humans aren't so keen on living inside an active source of molten rock.  Thus, I built him what I hope will be an interesting area, complete with space for the children to play (different god, different personality, and so on).  Another example: Mars has colors--reds, blues, golds--throughout, while another god you'll meet soon does not. 

Back to reality, which is where I think most fiction authors get our story ideas from: when we toured the Biltmore, I noticed that the home wasn't designed with children in mind.  I doubt many homes back then were, so it didn't surprise me.  But soon after it was constructed and George W. Vanderbilt found himself a lovely bride, along came a child as they often do.   It wasn't long after the appearance of Cornelia that the owner declared the Biltmore as his primary residence. Keep in mind that as sparkly as the Biltmore was for its day, the youngest Vanderbilt still didn't have access to a single Playstation or Nintendo.  She couldn't even play Wii with her friends.  Poor little girl, right?

Thus the question: where does a child play in a friggin' castle?  The tour discusses some of that; turns out she had a play area with a swing set up top of the hill at the other end of the esplanade. There were also reflecting pools to play in, and along the side of the house there was an open stretch used for all the lawn games they played back then with a "tea room" sort of gazebo thing. 

Where this is applicable right now is the elf village.  It's funny how world-building works itself out, really.  I *thought* I had the world of Return of the Gods completely built before starting it, but I had to go back several times and more thoroughly develop some areas as well as completely changing others (for example, at first the estate was really only big enough to handle a hundred humans or so, which I later on realized was way too small).  Thus, I'm not surprised now that I've begun the elf world when I have to go back and refine/revise the building I did for this one.

Bottom line lesson for this post, then, I guess, is to not get too caught up in world-building activities before you begin writing, because some--a little, a lot, or most--of it will end up being wrong anyway.  That, and take the time to go tour places, because there is some awesome inspiration out there. 

Heh--from Cat Stevens to a couple of writing rules.

Have a great weekend, what's left of it!


Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Biltmore Estate

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain

So, last weekend there wasn't a lot of writing done in the King household.  In fact, there wasn't much of anything done here, as we were away.  Wasn't a lot of writing done in that "away" place either, though, which is slightly (but only slightly) bothersome.

I visited the Biltmore Estate some time ago, back when my former employer stuck me in Florida for a summer with nothing but classes to take and weekends to go play.  Damn those tough employers, right?  On one of those weekends, though, I struck out north and ended up in Asheville where I toured the Biltmore.  It fascinated me, and when I moved my current family up to Richmond I set a goal to some day show the mansion and estate to them.

I got a chance.

Why last weekend?  I'd wanted to go before Christmas because of what I've heard of the amazing decorations of the season, but we had too much else planned in December.  I checked a couple of weeks ago, though, and saw that they have a Tiffany display through the end of January.  Heide's a sucker for Tiffany stuff, so it was an easy decision.  Besides, we still needed to finish the last Eragon book, and had just about 10 hours worth of book to listen to on a 12 hour drive.  Nearly perfect, right?

And it was, really.  We ran into some fog on the road.  That was it for troubles for the trip.  Well, that, and the gal who served us lunch at the Stable Cafe brought us potato soup instead of tomato soup, but she swapped it right out and gave us a discount on the bill to compensate.  Man, I love awesome service.  All things considered, then, it was a GREAT weekend.

So what is it about the Biltmore that's so visitable?  For one thing, it's just--big.  Really damn big.  If you haven't stood in front of it, you have no idea.  The house inside isn't measured in square feet.  No, the house is four acres.  Inside, not out.  Ish, anyway--it's four acres plus or minus an average large house.  An acre, by the way, is 43,560 square feet.  Most people just round it up to 44,000, because when you get that much space who cares about a spot measuring roughly 20 by 20? 

Okay, so four of those large spaces.  Officially, 175,000 square feet.  My current little spot of heaven in Virginia is 1,350 square feet.  Do the math.  Or don't--I already have.  You could fit 129 of my apartment--and I have what's truly a fairly large apartment--in that house.  Should I mention that I left off a point six, which is effectively another living room and kitchen?  Nah, no point, right?  Get above a hundred or so of my current living spaces, and it's just--well, it's just big.  Really.  Damn.  Big.

So what does this have to do with writing?  I know you're thinking that.  Hold it, though--trust me, I'll get there.

It's big, indeed.  But it's also complete.  I suspect most people fantasize about a home with a space for everything, but this house has it.  Literally.  There are 255 rooms.  There are 53 bathrooms, and keep in mind that it was built at a time when most homes had zero.  But bathrooms aside, there's a huge dining room.  No, I said HUGE.  Big enough, in fact, that it has a full pipe organ and several major animal trophies, including a friggin' moose head, and you really don't notice when you walk in.  There are tapestries in there that are tremendously old.  The tapestries, interestingly enough, tell the story of the love triangle between Mars, Venus, and Vulcan.

Interesting, considering the storyline in Return of the Gods, no?

Anyway, it was interesting walking through all the different rooms.  With over 250, there's plenty of room for pretty much whatever you want.  There's the owner and his wife's bedrooms, for example, complete with a private study joining the two.  I hadn't thought much before about why wealthy landowners would want separate bedrooms from their spouses, but after touring the Biltmore and listening to the audio guide, I get it.

Oh--and there's a library.  Did I mention the library?

The owner of the house apparently had a 23,000-volume book collection, comprised of books in eight different languages.  Half of those books are contained in the library, which contains--no surprise, right?--books in a floor-to-ceiling configuration, just like in the library owned by Mars.

Makes me wonder where I got the idea.

So anyway, we left the estate with my lovely bride looking at me sideways.  Did I pattern any of Return of the Gods after my first visit?  It's quite likely, honestly.

Is that cool, or what?  Plus I'm using some of the design ideas for the construction of the elf castle and cathedral.  All things considered, then, it was a very useful trip. 


Friday, January 27, 2012

The Writing Show: Shelf Life

“God, grant me the Senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference” - I have no idea who said this first

So last night was The Writing Show, hosted by the James River Writers.  For the technical details, look here:

Short version: The Writing Show is a monthly (ish) seminar run by the JRW.  It costs a little bit: $10 for pre-registration, $12 at the door.  This month's show was on the topic of Shelf Life, or how to connect with the people who are going to sell your book to the public, and it was worth every penny and then some. 

I know, I know--after the JRW Conference last October, people are probably sick of my returning from JRW events screaming "OMG YOU MUST ATTEND  THESE TOO!"  But it's true.  Every time I've been around JRW I've come away both smarter about the craft of writing and happier to have been around a group of positive people. 

Anyway, I can't possibly cover the whole two hours worth of talk captured on four pages of notes here, but I'll hit some highlights.  I'll start with what is probably the core quote of the evening, said by Kristin Keith:  the Author is "just another cog in the wooing chain" involved in bookselling.  It's all about trust-based relationships, from author to publisher, from publisher to book distributor, from book distributor to book seller, from book seller to customer, and from publicists to everybody along the way.  The fact that the structure is a bit muddier now than it used to be doesn't change the nature of the game.

Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore, featured a dry wit combined with an incredible depth of knowledge that kept the information extremely interesting, so most of my quotes and comments come from her wisdom.   For example: don't approach an independent bookstore owner talking about how well your book is doing on Amazon or on BN.com.  They.  Don't.  Care.  Or, to be closer to how she described it, they do care, but it's a caring in one of those negative ways.  Lookit, don't use their chief competitor who's trying to drive them out of business in the case for why they should form a relationship with you.  Just don't.  Please, for the Love of God.  If you're sending a link, send it from ingrambook.com or bookazine.com, not BN.com or Amazon.com.  I mean, this is for serious here.  If you do send your ASIN to an Indie bookstore and I hear about it, I'll laugh at you. 

(side note: if you don't get it, go back to my post on Those Silly Booksellers back in December to see just how irritated some bookstores are becoming with Amazon and their own customers)

One surprise I had involved a bookstore's expectations regarding events.  Events (like book signings) cost bookstores money, of course.  Big 6 publishers, though, have marketing campaigns that are more or less well-funded, and they can push some of the funds toward the bookstores to compensate for the events.  That said, Justice also enjoys working with local authors who can't push corporate marketing dollars her way.  It just can't be a losing proposition.  To that end, I was surprised when she said an author only needs to sell ten copies to make the event "worth it" for the store.  Somehow I'd always thought--100?  200?  1,000?  I mean, certainly, we as authors want to sell that many, but I've also read that it's kind of normal for people to quite reliably not show up for book signings.  But there it was--if a first time author in the local market sells 10-20 copies, she considers the event a success.  Whew, right?

But--be nice. If you're a jerk, the bookstore owner doesn't have to take your books out of their back-room box.  Ever.  Except, perhaps, to tape them back up and return them. 

Everybody makes typos; be gentle if you catch one.

Oh, and they recommended following Rainy Day Books on Twitter if you want to learn even more about what not to do when you work with an Independent bookstore.

So, enough about what not to do.  What should you do when you want your books placed in an indie store?
  • Be nice. 
  • Make an appointment; don't just drop by.  Drop-bys are for amateurs, buddies, and book buyers, not book sellers.
  • Fountain Bookstore receives 7-10 requests per day from Indie authors to carry their books.  At any given time she said she has 70 books in the back waiting to be considered for the shelves.  If you want to stand out from the crowd--well, you've got to stand out from the crowd. 
  • Make sure your books are returnable.  If they're not, you're asking the store to take too big a risk.
  • Expect to offer the standard 40% discount.
  • If you're wanting sparkly positioning, be prepared to offer something for it.  Publishers pay "coop" fee to get their books on endcaps and special tables.  You need to make it worth the bookstore's spot, too.
  • Your books are returnable in 90 days, which means you have between 30 days and 6 months, depending on how local and how nice you are, to make a dent in the sales category. Otherwise you get your shinies back.
To do an event:
  • Be nice.
  • Take something interesting and fun.  Bagels and muffins are good, but not enough.  One author brought a harp and played Celtic music while the readers didn't file in.  It made a difference.  Other authors even cater dinner.  (Schoerke said authors and disposable income in the same breath, which prompted some chortles among the crowd)
  • Go there in a good, happy mood.  I decided I'm always going to take Heide to these things, because she can talk without being grumpy, while I can't always do that. 
  • The deal is, the bookstore owner and her employees sell more books than you might realize just on the strength of their recommendations and comments to customers.  It was also a bookstore employee who reportedly was largely responsible for Tinkers being in the right place at the right time to win the Pulitzer.  You want them remembering you and your book.  If they don't, then you've wasted everybody's time. 
If your publicist gets you a seat at a book-buyers' dinner, go.  I'd never heard of such things but it wasn't surprising; they exist in other industries.  Just as in other industries, one very basic equation applies: booze + buyers = sales.  Go there, be nice, and sell.

Get to know the language, too.  The panelists were great about explaining terms like "coop" and "comp titles" (or titles that your book is kinda like) but there are more.  Subscribe to the trade pubs, follow Indie booksellers on Twitter, friend them on Facebook, etc. You can't really be nice to them unless you speak the same language, after all.

Oh, a strangely-related, unrelated comment: the print-on-demand (POD) services charge $38 to provide a proof print.  If you can't afford the $38, you can't afford POD.  Get it and have several people look at it, because of how embarrassing it is to get books into a bookstore with the title misspelled on the dang cover.

How do we, as authors, get titles reviewed by traditional newsletters/newspapers/media, someone asked.  We don't, really, and Schoerke explained that any publicist who promises to get an author's work reviewed by a specific source should be considered questionable.  The reviewing sites work at their pace based on their queues to review the books they choose to review, and bugging them will only get the book in question pushed toward the bottom.  The best thing to do, then, is to send out Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) months before release and hope they decide to do it.  It's entirely possible through hard work and gushing niceness to get reviews in, say, a certain number of sites, but to say that you're going to get a review in a specific place just doesn't jive with reality. 

The panel did offer a different view from what I've seen regarding paid reviews.  I've heard a lot of negative commentary based on the perception that an author is basically just paying for a positive review that he or she doesn't deserve, but that's not exactly what goes on.  The review sites and pubs are, of course, interested in successfully meeting their own expenses, which is typically done through advertising income brought to the table by the Big 6 corporate advertising teams.  They're going to review the folks who are helping them keep the lights on, of course.  That means that an Indie author paying for a review is really just leveling the playing field as far as likelihood of receiving a timely review.

Last tidbit: of course writing is a quiet profession, and that many authors are introverts.  That said, "Whatever it was that got you to sit down and write your story" is the same thing it takes to go sell that story to book sellers.  "It may not be the same skillset, but it's the same mindset," said Kelly Justice  That's--beautiful, innit? 

And on that note--I'll see all y'all at the next JRW event, I hope.

Oh, and one other note: I've been hard on bookstores in the past.  I hope you all recognize that I was only talking about the stupid ones. 


PS--if you're in the Richmond area, please give Fountain Books some love: http://fountainbookstore.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fountain-Bookstore-Inc/62626737003   

Thursday, January 26, 2012

He just. Wouldn't. Shut. Up.

"One reason I don't suffer Writer's Block is that I don't wait on the muse, I summon it at need." - Piers Anthony

So, I was a few minutes late to work today. Arrgh. I followed my normal routine; I even got out of bed and started the routine about 10 minutes early.

Problem is, my inner muse has a couple of settings.  On one setting, he's there guiding the story along relatively quietly.  That's a good setting for writing, because it allows me to write and then go to the refrigerator to get a snack, and then write some more.  A controllable muse is a good muse, I always say.

Then there's the other setting, the firehose one, the one he was in this morning.  He just.  Wouldn't.  Shut.  Up.  I went out to the computer and put about 800 words on the page before it was time to head into the bedroom to shower, shave, and all that et cetera stuff you really don't want to read about on a blog.  I had to go back out not once but twice to add more stuff to the manuscript.

Trust me, I'm not complaining.  When a writer gains inspiration like this, the only thing that can come out of it is goodness in the story.  Well, that, and tardiness at work, which isn't good at all.


Anybody know a way to get an answering machine for the muse to talk into?


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Daily Puppy

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." - The White Queen of Charles Lutwidge Dodson

Have you scrolled down to the bottom of my blog?  Way, way down, that is.  All the way to the bottom.  Down past the text, and the Post a Comment area, and the whole "share this on whatever social network you wish" collection of buttons and links and what-not.

All the way down at the bottom you'll find The Daily Puppy.  Today, as I write this, I'm looking at Ikelos the Bernese Mountain Dog.  Yesterday I'd never heard of a Bernese mountain dog, but today, thanks to my friends Google, Wikipedia, and my own blog, I know quite a lot about them.  Like, for instance--they're cute.

Not, of course, that it matters one bit to my day job or my writing.  But hey, I like it.

Why would there be a "Daily Puppy" at the bottom of a blog on writing?  Dogs don't write--at least, I don't think they do.  There's nothing about having a picture of a dog that improves my readership, necessarily, or helps me write better books or sell more of them.  It's just--well, it's just cute.  I like it.

It started early on, when I first bent my head to the task of building this blog.  Creating a blog site, at least on blogger.com, is a wonderfully simple process of picking and choosing what type of stuff you want on the site, and then dragging them to the block on the page where you want them to appear.  I've reshuffled and added stuff as I've gone, but the Daily Puppy went down at the bottom the first day and hasn't moved since.

What does this have to do with writing?  Well, I don't think anybody will argue against the claim that the daily puppy is a little bit whimsical.  So is some of my plotting.  I've already discussed plotting methods a bit, in fact, and if you recall I'm not one of those writers who can sit still long enough to write a complete outline of a novel.  In fact, my attempt at using yWrite failed for just that reason--it's too damn structured.  First you have to tell it how many chapters you'll have (and, potentially, give them names).  Then you have to tell the software how many scenes you'll have, and break those out by chapter (because a chapter contains one or more scenes, but a scene is never spread across chapters).  Then--and only then, once you get all the scenes laid out properly--can you begin to actually write.

Nope, not doing that.  I tried, honestly I tried.  I even started blocking in the scenes and characters a little bit for the elf books I'm starting.  Didn't work; after a while my fingies started itching and I just had to flip on over to Word and start writing.  Dammit, I know where the book is going, and I just don't want to see the path it takes to get there till it's time.

So, I admit, some of my writing is--whimsical.

Remember the scene in CATACLYSM where Aphrodite led the kids into danger?  (Yes, I'm assuming you've all read my book by now.  If not, please don't wreck my bubble.)  I remember launching into the writing of that scene.  That was a Daily Puppy moment.  I had planned on sending the couple to Atlantis anyway, and suddenly I had a whimsical inspiration.  After talking it over with Debra (my editor) I refined the scene a bit, but it still had its origins in my "well, this feels good, so why the heck not" place of happiness.

Hey, I ended up liking that scene a lot.

So now, gentle reader, I ask you: are you a whimsical person when you create, or are you more methodical?  Would you add a Daily Puppy to your site just for the heck of it?


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's an electron cost?

"If you're not worried that you're pricing it too cheap, you're not pricing it cheap enough." - Roy H. Williams

Near as I can tell, there are two reasons for similar things to be priced differently: different costs of production/delivery, or different levels of perceived intrinsic value.  Those are the two legitimate reasons, anyway; you'll always have crazy marketing people who decide to just toss numbers out into the great wide world, of course.  Still, those are the two things I can think of that will at least allow me to feel like I've justified how much I am or am not paying for something.

Now, let's talk about book formats.  What I and probably most of the remainder of the book-buying world are used to is a fairly simple scheme: simple black and white print hard-cover books priced at $25-$30, while simple black and white print paperbacks at $6-$10, ish.  That seems reasonable, right?  I mean, I can guesstimate about what printing a page of paper is going to cost.  Give me the total cost of producing a novel, the number of pages, and the cost of producing the cover, and I can use a little bit of simple math to get really close to the cost of each page.  It's not huge, certainly, but it's calculable.  Aggregate that cost to get to the cost of the pages printed, and I can at least grasp the purchase--literally. 

Why am I willing to pay 2-3 times the amount for a hard-cover book that I would for a paperback?  Well, for one thing, it's clear that the larger, thicker pages cost more, as does the hard cover.  The hard-cover book also comes with the added intrinsic value of greater durability; theoretically, it'll last longer than the paperback due to the protection afforded by the cover itself.  So, yay. 

There are also books that I buy used.  While they didn't cost any less to produce or distribute than the ones that are new, they have the problem of reduced value due to some other book lover's having fondled their pages before I had a chance to.  Personally, I like being able to buy pre-fondled books for a penny plus shipping, but then again I've already announced that I'm a cheap bastard.  Some series I'm reading, I'll insist on buying the hard-cover version; for most other readings, the pre-fondled fits the bill perfectly. 

Anyway--are we straight on costing differences for printed books?  I'm about to veer a different direction. 

On our trip to Orlando, and the trip to New Jersey, and finally the trip last weekend to the Biltmore Estate (more on that, later), we enjoyed the last (maybe) story in the Eragon series by Paolini, titled Inheritance.  Now, that's a decent story for about 90% of its length and all, but the point here is that I didn't pay a penny plus shipping, or $6-$10, or $25-$30 for it.  I paid $60 for that story, because I purchased it in audio book format.  There, too, though, I understand the cost difference.  Once the book was written, they had to pay Mr. Doyle whatever they paid him for the 30-odd hours it took to read the thing (in different voices, for that matter).  Meanwhile, they had to pay studio time and a production crew to do all the sound level manipulation magical stuff that production crews are famous for.  Then they had to pay to burn all the CDs (yes, I know that's done on great big machines for pennies, but even though the cost is low, there's still a cost).  Then there's all the special packaging and stuff.  So, yeah--I understand paying more for audio books than for print books.  Granted, I'm not sure if I get why it's twice the amount, but an increased price for increased costs I do, at least, get.  The direction of the pricing difference makes sense, if not the magnitude. 

So while we're comparing production costs and pricing of paperbacks, hard-cover, and audio books, let's add the e-book to the fray.  In its case, once the book is written, somebody has to sit down for about half an hour (if I'm feeling generous) to format it and then feed it through a converter, where it gets converted into electrons to be stored on a virtual shelf somewhere that's also made of electrons. 

So what's an electron cost?

Yeah, the answer to that really is nothing.  They're all around us.  If you don't agree, stick your tongue in a light soc--er, no, just kidding.  But seriously, it doesn't cost all that much. 

Which is why, of course, traditional publishers are insisting that e-books should be priced in the $15-$20 range, which is somewhere north of twice the price of a paperback. 


No, I'm serious, unfortunately.  Now, I'm not going to wade into the perceived value argument in this case.  I know that there are people who, like me, will take a very long time to abandon our love for paper, if we ever do.  But there are just as many people now who swear by electronic readers for their transportability and other great features (like, for instance, how us old guys don't have to buy special "large type" edition books).  It's just not a battle I'm'a gonna join, though, in this case; instead, I'll call the perceived value just about even when averaged across the population and let it lay. 

So what's the point of pricing e-books so outrageously?  I sometimes get the feeling that the traditional publishers don't actually want to sell them.  I think that either a) they're doing what most companies do, building up earthworks around their normal business models rather than trying to change their business models to take advantage of the times, or b) they're protecting their print shop employees and friendly neighborhood book stores.  Nothing wrong with that last, by the way.  I like book stores.  I wish they were smarter as a group, of course, as a couple of my previous posts will indicate, but I do like them and want to see them stick around.  Remember the days when there were three or four in each shopping mall, in fact? 


Bookstore demise aside, the problem in this case is that there are all sorts of pricing strategies out there for e-books that publishers aren't participating in. One example: loss leader.  When an independent author has several books out there, it's becoming common to offer a book for cheap, or even for free, in the hopes of enticing people to buy copies of the other ones.  Publishers can't do that, though; nobody goes in to a bookstore looking for a Tor or a Penguin or a Simon & Schuster book.  I go in looking for Brandon Sanderson, and to heck with what emblem is at the bottom of the spine.  The bottom line is that imprints brand their authors, not themselves, and that's hurting them in this case. 

Take, for example, Stephen King's (the other one) new book, 11/22/63.  Now that, I actually want to read.  I've never gotten into horror or suspense, but historical mystery is usually pretty interesting to me, and King is truly a master of telling a tale.  That said, I'm not interested in buying it for $20.  I'm just not.  I'm confident it's a good story, but I'm not willing to spend that much on something that I might not enjoy when I can wait a few months and buy a paperback or a cheap pre-fondled edition.  There's too much else I could do with that $20.

That said, I bought several new e-books over the last few weeks, pretty much at random based on what I saw friends publishing.  None of them was priced over $5, and all, as you should already understand, were by independent authors or small publishers. 

I'm sure that the Big 6 would like to believe that my purchasing preferences are unique to me--but they're not, as the falling number of (new) printed book sales and the skyrocketing number of e-book sales would suggest.  What I don't understand, then, is why they continue their pricing strategy on e-books.

So what's an electron cost?  Quite a bit, if it brings down some of the Big 6. 


Monday, January 23, 2012

Healthy again...mostly

"He had had much experience of physicians, and said 'the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd druther not.'" - Mark Twain

"It's about time to ________________." - Cricket Walker's mini-challenge

It's about time to get healthy.  My boss pointed out last week that if I continue with my brutal cough for another couple of weeks, I'll hit three months--a quarter--solid of being sick.  What she didn't say is that's also three months of underperforming, because the cough I've had has kept me up at night and made me exhausted, grouchy, and pretty much useless during the day.  On top of that, I haven't written much of anything for a couple of months, which is sad for a guy who wrote two books, a novella, and a few short stories in ten months last year.

The good news?  I'm there.  I finally bowed to reality and went in to the Emergency Room.  Interestingly, I went to a hospital that was part of a large system, and happened to catch it on the day when the entire system's IT system was down.  The nurse in the ER was telling us about it, and my wife thought it a good thing to tell her that I used to be an IT guy.  Ended up not being a bad thing, but....

The doctor proved to be a smart one, IT or not.  He talked to me about my having taken four rounds of antibiotics and other meds and still not seeing a change.  He didn't bother taking blood tests; instead, he ordered an X-Ray of my lungs to prove it wasn't still pneumonia (and it wasn't), gave me some serious medication and breathing treatments to help my lungs get ahead of the healing, and talked to me about allergies.  Turns out--and I hadn't thought of this--when we went to Orlando we took our pillows with us.  I've been sick ever since.  Duh.

We took our pillows and mattress and encased them in allergen-free covers, after vacuuming lots of stuff out.  All new sheets and happy blankets later, and now I've been three days in a row of sleeping without Nyquil.  I'm still coughing a little, but it's nothing like what I was going through earlier.

That, then, is a blessing.

Now, back to life.  I've got to catch up on writing.  I've got to work on my dissertation.  I've got to catch up on the aspects of my job that fell through the cracks.  I've got to get back to blogging several times a week; I enjoy this quite a bit. 

I've also got some major plans, of course.  February 10 is the release date for ASCENSION, and I've got a big party on Facebook planned, with trivia games and giveaways.  I'm going on to Giovanni's "Gelati's Scoop" radio show to discuss it the evening of 2/2.  Can't wait for this release!  But I'm also trying something out--I've spent a bit of money making bookmarks that entitle the bearer to a free copy of CATACLYSM.  I'll be putting those into the bags for attendees of SheVaCon, the fantasy/sci fi conference coming up on February 17-19 in Roanoke.  If everything goes as planned, then, I'll be giving away nearly 1,000 copies of my first book.  Why give it away?  Because I hope that people like it enough to buy the second book, and to tell others about it so the others will buy both.

Besides, why bother selling something if you can't even give it away?

On top of all that, I'm really looking forward to getting involved once again in James River Writers; I've avoided the past three meetings because I haven't felt up to them.  Also, there's a conference in Richmond in April I intend on attending, and another one in Baltimore this summer.  The one in Richmond won't let me stuff bags with my giveaways for free, and I'm too much of a cheap bastard to pay for the bookmarks and pay for the stuffing in order to give my book away, but I plan on handing the bookmarks out anyway if  the efforts at SheVaCon are successful. 

There--there's my marketing plan, or some of it, anyway, for all my competitors to see.  Funny thing is that writers really aren't competitors in the real sense of the word.

On that note--good night, and good health to all.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Konrath's hundred grand

"Behold the fool saith, 'Put not all thine eggs in the one basket'--which is but a manner of saying, 'Scatter your money and your attention;' but the wise man saith, 'Put all your eggs in the one basket and--WATCH THAT BASKET.'" - Mark Twain

It's funny to me how people look at success.  There are so many exemplary stories of success surrounding us that it's tough to really decide how to proceed sometimes, but many people just sort of point and either talk about why the particular story they're looking at couldn't possibly happen to them, or they opine about how the subject in question got lucky or--something darker.

For example, there was a show on some time ago called "How'd You Get So Rich?" in which Joan Rivers would go interview people who were--well, rich.  I remember one episode about a multi-millionaire who'd gotten to the "rich" point by inventing--wait for it--those gross-looking fake teeth.  Interestingly, the show mentioned that he wasn't rich when he'd come up with the idea, and that he'd set himself up in his home selling them, and, um, well, I don't recall them covering much else other than the fact that sales went well.  Thus did the show put weight behind the idea that if you come up with something good, it'll magically sell well and you'll be rich.  I don't buy it, really.  There must have been some struggles, some time when somebody said "you want to sell ugly teeth?" and followed with a string of lewd suggestions on where he could best position his teeth for marketability.  I know it because that's how the world seems to be.

There have been many success stories in this silly business of authoring, too, some of which I've discussed in previous blog posts.  One author I follow, JA Konrath, posted a fairly provocative announcement on his own blog a few days ago on the matter:

"One hundred grand. That's how much I've made on Amazon in the last three weeks."

It's tough to read that as an aspiring author and not stand up and say "wow wee!" or, well, something to that effect.  On the other hand, I've been following Konrath for quite a while, and I know what he went through to get to this point.  Others haven't, though, so it was unsurprising to read his follow-up blog post soon after:

Reality Check
"My story about making $100,000 in three weeks on Kindle is getting widely passed around, and I've noticed that folks are reacting in a few specific ways.

1. Some are happy for me, and for the possibilities this opens up for them. They know the work and struggle that went into getting here.

2. Some keep perpetuating that false meme that it was my legacy books responsible for my success. I'm tired of debunking that one. It is 100% false.

3. Some think I'm telling the whole world that becoming successful is easy and that anyone can get rich by self-pubbing ebooks.

4. Some keep insisting that I must be some sort of marketing genius and they want to know what I've done to get here."

None of that really surprises me.  I'll keep from stealing the rest of Joe's thunder; please, go read his post if you haven't already.  It's just funny to me that, after all this time, people who follow Konrath's blog would have any reaction other than #1.

That's funny in the not really humorous way, of course.

It is awesome to see Konrath's success.  It's also awesome to see follow the other handful of tremendously successful authors who've made it big as Indies.  A key point, though, is that none of them, to my knowledge, did it with their first book.  Or their second.   Or in their first year--well, actually, there was one guy who was pretty successful in his first year.  Most, though, took a while. 

This post, in fact, can be thought of as Verse 2 of the one I wrote a couple of days ago where I discussed Stephen King's (the other one's) book.  In it, he flat-out tells authors that most won't make it, because even if they are successful enough to have their first book published, it won't do very well in sales, and it probably won't be a very good book, and they won't make enough money off of it to justify having worked on it for several months. This turns them off from the effort, for the most part, which is why you see an awful lot of books available on Amazon from an author who only wrote one.

Writing success just doesn't come that way.

Hell, success in general just doesn't come that way.

Speaking of success--if I'm going to ensure my own, I've got to get back to writing my upcoming book.  Stay tuned and keep watching my site at www.theotherstephenking.com for updates; Book 2 is slated to be released February 10, and Book 3 will be sometime in April. 


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Guest Post - Jerold A. Last

"...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people." - Mark Twain

TOSK says: Today we're in for a special treat. When Kai Wilson put together a Great Indie Reads blog hop, I jumped at the chance to interview another author because I'm always curious to see what makes other people as crazy as I was to complete a novel. The guy she paired me up with, though, is fascinating--a well-educated and well-traveled man who's written some great mystery stories. I'd say more, but there's no point stealing his thunder.

The Interview:

Hi there (Jerry), please tell me a bit about yourself.

I'm a Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of California's Medical School at Davis, near Sacramento in Northern California. I have a Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry and do research in asthma and health effects of air pollution on the lungs. (at which point TOSK interjects: holy crap!  I don't know what the "typical author" would be, but he sure ain't a Ph.D. in biochemistry.)  My lifelong hobby has been reading mystery novels, especially the California mystery novels of my favourite authors, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Michael Connelly, Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, and Robert Crais, and wandering out of California, Robert B. Parker's Spenser series and James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux stories. My interest in writing my own mysteries came from reading the masters and from a Freshman seminar I taught for many years at UC Davis on California Mystery Novels. The setting for my novels thus far has been South America, especially Uruguay and Northwest Argentina, both places we lived during a sabbatical I took several years ago. I've been back to Montevideo and Salta several times since then for collaborative research and teaching programs there, so I know the locales, the food, and the people I use for the books. Novels to come will be set in Chile, Peru, and Brazil, all places I have spent time in thanks to the various scientific collaborations that began during our sabbatical leave.

I try to write books that are fast moving and entertain the reader while introducing the readers to a region where I've lived and worked that is a long way from home for most English speakers. Montevideo, Salta, Machu Picchu, and Iguazu Falls are characters in these books, and the novels will succeed for me if some of you say that you'd like to visit these places because they seem so vivid and real. There is absolutely no goal to write "The Great American Novel" or even literature. I believe my strengths are in inventing interesting plots, paying attention to story details, and trying to entertain the reader.

And how about your latest book?

"The Ambivalent Corpse" is set mainly in Montevideo, Uruguay. The premise is that our heroes find parts of a dismembered corpse on a rocky stretch of beach in Montevideo, apportioned equally between the Memorial to a German cruiser sunk in World War II and the Memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust. Because of the murder victim's strategic location shared between two antithetical monuments, the Uruguayan press names her “The Ambivalent Corpse”. Private detective Roger Bowman and his girlfriend, scientist Suzanne Foster, find themselves travelling through Uruguay, Southwest Brazil, and parts of Paraguay and Argentina to help solve the case. This fast paced mystery has plenty of action, atmosphere, and sense of place. It has received an average of 4 stars on its Amazon reviews thus far. While the novel is basically a hard-bitten mystery story, it bends the genre slightly so that it should also appeal to readers interested in travel, romance, and South American food and wine.

I actually got the idea for this book's title and basic premise when my wife and I took a walk in Montevideo in 1999 and I saw that strange juxtaposition of the two monuments. It took a while for me to find the time to sit down and start writing the book.

Where can people get this book?

For Kindle folks, the book is on Amazon. For other E-readers like Apple for iPads and iPhones, Barnes and Noble for the Nook reader, Kobo, and just about anywhere else, directly via Smashwords.

Is it your first book?

This is my second book, and is part of a series featuring the same two main characters, Roger and Suzanne. The first book, The Empanada Affair", is set in Salta, Argentina. It was inspired by our living in Salta and eating lots of empanadas, especially for Sunday brunches at The Casa de Empanadas, which I borrowed for a critical scene or two in the book. A third entry in this series should be published on Amazon and Smashwords some time early in 2012. It is set in Peru and Northern Chile, and is titled "The Surreal Killer". The title is intended as a pun on the theme of the book, the search for a serial killer.

How are you finding self-publishing now you’ve published more than one book?

As I'm sure you've heard before, self-publishing is the easy part. Promotion and marketing have taken me and all other Indie authors into a whole new world, which is changing rapidly. I am suddenly on Facebook, which I swore would never happen, and being interviewed here about something other than my science, which is a new experience for me as well.

Who is your favourite character?

There are parts of me in both Suzanne and Roger, my lead characters in this series. Suzanne is the professional me, and I try to take some pains to make her science plausible if not actual. Roger is the less professional me of imagination, especially his proclivity towards puns, and his last name, Bowman, is derived from Ross MacDonald's immortal P.I. character, Lew Archer.

What’s your favourite indie book that you’ve read in the past 12 months?

"The Ambivalent Corpse", of course.

What’s your favourite book of all time?

It would probably be one of Ross MacDonald's. For today, I'll pick "The Chill".

Do you use any groups or mailing lists? Wanna tell us about them?

So far, just Facebook and Goodreads.

Any advice for new writers?

1. Be prepared to spend a lot of time trying to make people notice your book, especially time on the Internet.

2. Don't quit your day job!

What’s next for you?

Finishing the editing and proofreading for "The Surreal Killer", publishing and promoting it, and then on to book #4 in this series, which I think will be set either in Fortaleza, Brazil or Santiago, Chile, both cities I've spent some time in. I'd like to take advantage of my wife's expertise in dog breeding and dog showing as the backdrop for one of these books if I can make that work.

Anything else you’d like to tell us? 

I'd love to see some of you pick up a copy of the book, read and enjoy it, recommend it to your friends, and write a good honest review that you publish wherever you purchased the book. Your feedback will help me sell my books to a broader audience, and at the same time help make me a better writer.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A guest post from Trestle Press

"Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department." - David Packard

TOSK says: And now, a few exciting-as-heck words from the most wonderful publisher on the planet--mine.

Trestle Press says:
Starting today, Saturday, January 14th through Sunday, January 22, 2012, Trestle Press will be having a BUY ONE TITLE GET ONE TITLE FREE SALE !!

All of our titles are part of this sale, all of our authors will be participating in it, and all you have to do is when you purchase one of our stories send us the proof of purchase and we will be happy to send you the title of your choice that is of equal value.

You can email us in one of three ways; send the proof of purchase by email to one of the following:

-the authors of the titles you purchased and get your free titles directly from them. (for TOSK: stephen@theotherstephenking.com)

-Trestle Press: trestlepress@gmail.com

-Giovanni Gelati:gelati.giovanni@gmail.com

We have a wealth of talented authors at Trestle Press and there are many great stories to discover and read. As the week goes on there will be a few surprises thrown into this sale, so please stay tuned to our website: www.trestlepresspublishing.com or your favorite authors’ websites or blogs.

Feel free to follow us at our website for all the upcoming news and events surrounding all of the Trestle Press authors as they create more Best-Selling novels, novellas, short stories and series for you to follow and enjoy.

We hope that you will join us and our authors as we make our journey and try to blaze a new trail in this wide open world of publishing. Without you all is for naught; for everything we do, we do for you the reader! Have fun and happy reading!!

Courage and strength

"The courage and strength that you so desperately seek is right there within you. Close your eyes and feel it. It has been there all along…" (Cricket Walker)

A friend of mine recently asked what it was that helped me be successful writing a book: author, course, or mentor?  It's all three to a greater or lesser extent, but in the interest of providing a short answer I sent her the link to Stephen King's On Writing.  Through all the books I've read and the course I took and everything else, that was probably the key resource.   Writing is a rather challenging craft to learn, and there are tons of resources out there on various aspects of it.  For instance, I have a book, somewhere, on how to create good dialog, and another on how to keep action in the scenes.  It's all useful stuff, but here's the deal: if you don't approach it with the right attitude, you won't get it.

That's what the book On Writing is best for.  King starts by talking about how he got into the craft in the first place, and details the struggles he had in the early years.  Then he rips into the basics of writing with the starchiness of that grouchy English teacher that we all ought to have had sometime in high school.  Along the way he sets readers' expectations pretty low in terms of the likelihood of us making it at all in the noveling business, much less becoming millionaires.

My friend also asked me if I'd heard of a couple of authors whose webinar she would be watching soon.  Nope, hadn't.  I looked them up, though.  They're self-help folks.

Now, I got nuthin' against self-help authors.  Really, I don't.  Yes, I can't see or hear the word "self-help" (the word, or the words?  I'm not sure and I'm on too much of a roll to look it up) without seeing Stuart Smalley in my mind's eye: "I'm good enough, and I'm smart enough, and doggonnit, people like me."  I guess that's what growing up in the glory years of SNL was all about.  But I don't have anything against them; I even have a few of their books.  Heck, some day I plan to write one.  My point, though, is that if you're going out to write a novel, self-help isn't what you need.  Instead, what you need is to sit down at a computer in front of a blank document and stare at it and/or type on it till blood comes out of your forehead or you finish telling the story, whichever comes last.

What does it take, other than a blank document?  Well, it takes courage and strength, two qualities my friend Cricket mentioned in the quote at the top of this post.  It takes courage because at several points through the process your inner voice is going to tell you that you can't really write something as immense as a novel, or that you don't know enough to carry it off, or that your story idea isn't good enough, and you have to keep on plugging through all that to finish.  It takes strength because a novel really is a mammoth undertaking, to be completed in a number of hours numbering at least in the hundreds--and that's only the first draft.

Later, it takes the courage to send this wonderful little baby of a draft out to other people to get their opinions on it, and the strength to take their criticism, smile, and go back to the manuscript to improve it rather than to just rip it to shreds and forget about it.

Like Cricket said, though, both courage and strength are two qualities found within us all, which is why I started with her quote.


PS--Stay tuned.  I got somethin' special coming tomorrow.  As part of my buddy Kai's Great Indie Reads blog hop, I interviewed a really cool guy and author, Dr. Jerry Last, who has an amazing scientific background and writes mysteries based in some of the exotic locations where he's lived.  I don't want to give too much away, but make sure you visit tomorrow!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Promotion plethora...and CONTEST!

"What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself." - Abraham Lincoln

So, I've been thinking about publicity and the best way to do it. There are all sorts of things I could do--more, in fact, than I have time to do even if I didn't have to go to work.

Problem is: what would be best?

Next problem the first problem brings up is: how do you determine what "best" means?

I'd have to say that the best answer to the latter question is what lets the most people know about my book in the least expensive manner possible. Good definition, yes? But how do I measure it? How do I know how many people know about my books already?

Thus, I fall back on another definition: what increases my sales by the largest amount for the smallest cost?

So, that definition down, what is the best option?

I'm leaving it up to some of my readers, some of whom I know have successfully done this before. Please give me your ideas.

I'm going to make this a contest, in fact. Here's the deal: if you give me an idea that I use, I'll send you a copy of my soon-to-be-published novel for free.

Even better, I'll send you a copy of the novel for free (unless your name is Leslie and you've already won a copy, in which case you get that novel AND another for free) AND I'll give you credit and discuss the option on the blog at a later date.

All you have to do is leave a comment to this blog post suggesting a GREAT book promotion idea.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Points of view

"One should not bring sympathy to a sick man. It is always kindly meant, and of course it has to be taken--but it isn't much of an improvement on castor oil. One who has a sick man's true interest at heart will forbear spoken sympathy, and bring him surreptitious soup and fried oysters and other trifles that the doctor has tabooed." - Mark Twain the Wise

My wonderful blog readers,

I've been trying to keep up a regular posting schedule since I started this blog.  I haven't succeeded at it in the past couple of months. Unfortunately I've been ill, for all of that two months believe-it-or-not; after now three trips to the doctor we're still wondering what's keeping my lungs from clearing out like they should.  

So, that said, anybody in the Richmond area who has a fried oyster or two to donate to the cause would be most welcome at my humble abode.  Only, of course, in the name of honoring Mark Twain's historic words.

So I spent today home sick, and much of it trying to write.  Got a decent amount done, despite having to take frequent breaks.  I'm finding that this new story line is a touch more challenging to write than the previous one, actually, and the challenge is related to point of view.

See, my previous work was written from my own point of view as a third-person narrator.  As such I could look over whomever's shoulder I wished, so long as I didn't bouncy-bounce too much.  More importantly, I only had to worry about other peoples' voices when I wrote them into dialog. 

This book, though, is in first person.  It's written from the point of view of the protagonist, who happens to be an 18-year-old Southern girl.  Southern I can pull off in my sleep, but the rest I have to think about sometimes.  That's why I've started requiring total silence when I write.  It's tough to read back over what I've written, "hearing" the voice, if there's anything else going on.  Note that this is entirely unlike my previous writing experience, where much of the book could be--and was--written to Mozart.  First person, apparently, requires silence.  At least, it does for me.

So, with that interesting (at least, to me) observation, I bid you adieu and turn back to my inner muse.


Word Counts:
Atlantis:  2478
Elf:  6641

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Those silly retailers (2nd verse)

"Peace begins with a smile." - Mother Teresa

"Mini-blog challenge: 5 things that bring me peace..." - Cricket Walker

What brings me peace?  Several things:

  • Heide's smile when I get home from work
  • A calm pond with forest reflecting from the other side
  • A good book
  • Yuki the Therapuppy Chihuahua curling up with me in bed or on the couch
  • A hot cup of tea or a cold martini

Oh, and finding another indication that I'm right on a matter on which I've taken a stand.

Remember several days ago when I posted about "those silly booksellers"?  The post where I lambasted Barnes & Noble and other physical bookstores because they're so busy whining about how difficult Amazon has made their business model that they're not paying attention to their business models? 

I saw this today:

It caught my eye immediately because we just bought a laptop from Best Buy, and paid the extra money for the Geek Squad service over the next couple of years.  As long as they stay in business, it's worth it to me, but if the prediction made in the article comes to pass I might have wasted my money.  Sadly, I have no reason to doubt the prediction, since it's based on the same reasoning I used earlier.

"But this is hardly customer service. It’s actually getting in the way of a customer who’s trying to self-service because there’s no one around who can answer a basic question about the store’s confusing layout. It’s anti-service." 

More to the point:

"Best Buy and other traditional retailers complain that Amazon can undercut them in prices because the site doesn’t charge sales tax, and that Amazon customers use Best Buy as their showroom, taking advantage of the extensive, well-stocked locations and knowledgeable staff to research products they actually buy from someone else online.

Online competitors are certainly part of Best Buy’s problem, but not for the reasons it thinks. What’s really going on is more basic. Best Buy just doesn’t understand its customers’ point of view."

Deja vu?

Jesus Christ, folks.  There may come a day when everybody would prefer to link into an Internet terminal and order whatever they need, but that day isn't today by any stretch of the imagination.  I, for one, still like to shop, feel, look, and purchase in person, and I'm sure I'm not alone.  The world could still belong to the brick and mortar institution, if not on the same scale as ten years ago.  But it's not about selling stuff.  Best Buy, according to the article, says "let's sell electronics the way we think they should be sold," just as Barnes & Noble says "let's sell books the way we think they should be sold."  Then they complain because Amazon says "let's give the customers what they are looking for in a buying experience." 

I doubt anyone from Barnes & Noble read my blog post several days ago.  The article I linked above, though, was in Forbes.com.  I can't help but wonder what an executive from Best Buy thought when he read it. 

Another, related online tidbit I found today:
Can't help but wonder how many of the retailers listed wouldn't be on there if they'd paid attention to what their customer wanted.

On that note, time to go back to hopefully writing what my readers want to read. 


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Now featuring: a great 2012

Supposing is good, but finding out is better.
- Mark Twain in Eruption; Mark Twain's Autobiography

So, let me begin this first post of 2012 with another of the famous Cricket Walker's mini-challenges:
2011 was a year of __________ (fill in the blank).

Learning is what I thought of first when I saw the challenge.  I certainly learned a lot in 2011, but that's a bit of a cop-out.  I've learned a lot every year, and it seems to have accelerated over the past decade in which I've completed an MBA as well as the courses required for a Ph.D, taken on a new job position, served on three very different campuses for three very different companies, and adjusted to kids growing into the "can I have the car keys now?" years.  Learning is good.  Learning is important.  There's plenty good to be said for being a "life-long learner."


I think the Twain quote sums my "but" up quite well.  I've learned a lot over the years, but 2011 was a year to really put that learning into reality.  I've always supposed, for example, that I could do the research required for a dissertation for a Ph.D.; in 2011 I found out.  I've always supposed, too, that I could write a novel; in 2011 I found out.

2011, then, was a year of finding out.

And now: 2012.  I admit, last night I was on top of the world.  I'd Tweeted a few times about how proud I've been to have a book appear on one of Amazon.com's Top 100 lists.  Last night, when I went to check its placement on that list, I was amazed, shocked, pleased, and just plum tickled to see that my other new release had made it to the same list. On top of that, every time somebody out there tells me they've enjoyed my writing it brings a warmth to my heart.

Yes, I can.  That's what I found out.  I can write stuff that people enjoy reading.  And now, for 2012, I'm going to continue doing that, and improving as I go.  After all, I'm not perfect.  Then again, I doubt there's ever been a writer who could be considered perfect, this being a subjective craft from hell.  The trick, then, is to continue improving in my ability to put the words together in a way that builds more vibrant and memorable pictures in the readers' minds.

And with all that said--time to start starting.  Here's to a great 2012, all!


Keeping me focused counts:
Atlantis: 2478
Elf: 1467