Friday, August 29, 2014

Life without Kindle

I carry my Kindle with me almost everywhere I go. Now, instead of fuming at airport security, I read or shop for my next book. If my wife asks to run into a store, I wait in the car and read. I even read in the interminable lines at Starbucks where no one seems to know how to order a cup of coffee with less than fourteen words. I cheered when the FAA finally ruled that my Kindle wouldn’t cause a fiery crash if I forgot to turn it off. Now I can read during that bouncy ride down the tarmac while the aluminum behemoth decides whether it wants to fly that day.

In other words, my Kindle became an appendage. Until I forgot it in San Diego. When I got to Lindbergh Field, I discovered I had left my trusty device in our condo. Darn. I couldn’t figure out what to do. Then I remembered the good ol’ days when I used to read words on paper. In short order, I bought the Jack Reacher novel Never Go Back by Lee Child.

The first surprise was the paperback price of $9.99. No wonder I liked my Kindle. The second surprise was how much I enjoyed reading a real book. It instantly brought back memories of sand chairs beside Bass Lake or the Pacific Ocean, reading in bed, and getting lost in a story on an airplane. Really lost. Once, I didn't notice that we had aborted two attempts to land until the pilot interrupted my trance to tell us lowly passengers that if he couldn’t land this time he was diverting to another airport. What? Where had I been during all of this? Reading a paperback.

That got me thinking. I have never been that lost while reading a Kindle. There is something about the mechanical nature that interferes with total absorption. In a real book, I never think about flipping a page; I never stop to look up the definition of a word; I never adjust the little light bulb thingy; and I never glance down to see how far I am from the end. I wondered: are real books superior?
Then I thought about my son. I thought about how hard it is to tear his attention away from an electronic device. I thought about how automatically he jets around content, moves between reading different devices and even effortlessly switches between text and audio books. For me, reading a paperback was nostalgic, for him it would be foreign. Did I look back on good times with paperbacks the way my mother insisted that screenwriting was better when television broadcast in black and white.

I’d think some more about this, but I’m lost in a Jack Reacher novel I picked up at an airport.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

When I attended the Tucson Festival of Books as a panelist, I also joined the audience in a number of other sessions. One of the best sessions was a panel discussion of the book, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend. This is a fantastic book that every Western enthusiast should read.  It’s really three stories, perfectly interweaved. A factual description of the abduction of Cynthia Parker; A historical critique of the novel, The Searchers by LeMay Alan; and an intimate look at the John Ford classic film The Searchers, starring John Wayne. The theme used to unite the stories is how history turns into legend until myth is stronger than facts. A fascinating read on many levels.   

John Wayne

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

From Bestselling Indie-Novelist to Also-Ran

Western fiction action adventure suspense

I self-published The Shopkeeper in 2007. It seems like a lifetime ago, but in indie-publishing terms, it was an eon. I stumbled into indie-publishing by accident. At the time, I had a New York agent with a major firm, but he declined to represent my Western because he said the advance would be less than a decent down payment on a small Korean car. He explained that his 15% wouldn’t be worth his time.  Okay, I decided to self-publish the novel. The Shopkeeper found an instant audience and it was consistently in the Top 20 bestselling books in the Western genre, and at Christmas it often ranked as the #1 Western.

In 2007, most indie-books were nonfiction. In fact, self-published novels were so rare; I pretty much had the field to myself. For a couple of years I was the bestselling indie-novelist in America.

Alas, good things never last. Today I hear there are 30,000 indie-books published each and every month, with most of them being fiction. My lonely world suddenly became very crowded. What happened? The Kindle. It was also introduced in 2007, but it took a few years to get rolling. Those were my years, when print dominated genre fiction.

I would lament the good ol’ days, but I sell more books than I used to. It’s just I can no longer claim bestselling status. I’ve published seven novels and two nonfiction books, five of them Steve Dancy Tales. As of this writing, all five Steve Dancy novels are ranked at less than 30,000, with the nine year old The Shopkeeper ranked at #75 in Kindle Westerns. My novels for the Barnes and Noble Nook are doing better than I expected as well. (The Shopkeeper is ranked at under 4,000 overall.) More important, actual sales are better than they have ever been.

The moral to the story is that progress isn’t necessarily scary or harmfuljust different. e-books brought indie-authors vast numbers of new readers. Yeah, the ubiquitous device also brought competition, but with an expanding market, there’s room for everyone. Besides, savvy readers weed out the charlatans that crank out a book after book that they price at less than a cup of coffee. It seems newbie indie-authors flame-out more frequently than want-to-be actors in Hollywood. There’s some great stuff out there in the indie world, but to compete in this crowded market requires study, effort, and a love of writing. Good novels don’t just happen. Authors write and rewrite them until readers want to flip the pages all the way to the end.

So here’s a piece of advice from an ol’ fogeyif you want to sell a lot of books … write a darn good one.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vacation over—Darn

I’ve returned home after an extended vacation in Pacific Beach, California. I made good progress on Jenny’s Revenge, but I keep forgetting how much work it is to bring a novel to the bookshelves. Lots more work to do. While I was gone, Steve did pretty well on his own.  After a couple day promotion for The Shopkeeper, August is turning out to be one of the best months ever for the Steve Dancy Tales. At one point, The Shopkeeper reached the 80th best selling e-book in the paid Amazon store. Pretty good for a 7 year old novel. Maybe I should go on vacation more often.

Now I have two big projects. Finish Jenny’s Revenge and do my 2013 income taxes. I was in the middle of a move last April with my records stored deep in a cave known only to the moving company. Taxes! I hate paperwork. I hate little pieces of paper. I think my phobia comes from my early years in management. I never went home until the In Box was empty. Paper, paper, paper. I thought man’s worst invention was the copier machine. It destroyed productivity. When carbon paper dictated the number of people to received memos, distribution was highly selective. Copiers were bad enough, but with email, at the tap of a key anyone can send copies to as many people as they wantat nearly the speed of light! I think I’m beginning to like texting.

Is there a point to this posting? Nope. Just grousing as I return from vacation to contemplate an disagreeable task. Soon, I’ll be wading through boxes of little pieces of paper so I can catch up with the rest of the world in almsgiving to the 16th Amendment. I’d rather be writing.