Friday, September 26, 2014

The Real Wild West

Previously, I wrote that Mark Twain is my favorite Western writer. Twain actually experienced the West at its rowdiest and Roughing It describes his experiences with humor and a touch of the storyteller’s art. Owen Wister is another author who experienced the real Wild West, which gave The Virginian its authentic feel. Wells Drury’s An Editor on the Comstock Lode is yet another great source for Western lore. In fact, its organization and humorous writing makes it an indispensable reference source for Western writers. Drury’s time as a newspaper editor in Virginia City gave him a front row seat to the goings on in that raucous town. His book covers:
  • Everyday life in the West, including entertainment, food, and city services
  • Practical jokes galore and lots of Yarns
  • Saloon life and etiquette
  • Gambling
  • Bad-men and bandits, gunfights, and stage robberies
  • Mining
  • Financial history and shenanigans
  • Journalism, including Mark Twain
  • Politics
  • Western Terminology
  • And sketches of the prominent people of the Comstock Lode and Nevada politics.
My favorite, of course, is the chapter he dedicates to Candelaria and its suburb of Pickhandle Gulch. This mining camp figures prominently in my Steve Dancy Tales, but I chose to call the main town Pickhandle Gulch because I liked the name. Fiction writers get to bend history to suit their story. It’s one of the fun parts about being a novelist. I suspect Twain, Wister, and Drury did a bit of bending themselves.

Honest Westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why print books are different

publishing, publishers
Mike Shatzkin

Mike Shatzkin has posted a discerning article about how print books are different than digital books. It’s common to assume that books will proceed along the same path as the digitization of music and film. Shatzkin disagrees. He claims books are very different from their digital cousins and make a number of good observations.

  • Readers routinely switch between print and digital
  • Whether digital or analog, music and film require power and a device to be consumed. Books require neither.
  • Compared to the digital variety, Shatzkin contends print books are easier to navigate, and that navigation is not a critical function for music or film which for the most part are consumed serially.
  • Print presentation can be more aesthetic. Digital book devices inhibit interior design. For music and film, there is no difference “between the streamed and hard-goods version.”
  • Motivation is different for book buyers. Music and film are consumed mostly for entertainment.  Books are frequently bought for educational purposes, making the ability to browse more important. This gives bookstores an advantage over online retailers.
  • Digital music and film is superior to analog which drives digitization. This driver does not exist for books.

Shatzkin argues that there are innate differences between books, film, and music which will alter each media’s adaption to the digital world. One of the most significant being that ebook readers still buy and consume print. Music and film buffs seldom go back to the prior generation technology.

Although I tend to agree with Shatzkin, he did miss a few advantages of e-books. First, they’re lighter. I’m reading a big, heavy print book at the moment and I don’t take it to bed with me because my hands get tired holding it up. Currently, I fall asleep with Tom Wolfe on a kindle. A second advantage of e-readers is the ability to read them one-handed. My wife makes fun of me, but when one of my hands is busy shoveling breakfast into my mouth, I turn the page on my Kindle by bouncing it against my nose. Try that with a print book.

reading readers books

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Word of Mouth Revisited

I’ve contended that word of mouth is the greatest marketing tool available to authors. Word of mouth includes book clubs, online recommendations at sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing, reader reviews, and good ol’ fashioned face-to-face conversation. Word of mouth does not include anything the author says, including social media leavings that come from gallivanting around cyberspace. Potent word of mouth comes unexpectedly from a trusted source. Every author’s marketing strategy must focus on generating positive word of mouth.

Recently, I had confirmation of this axiom. In the first of August, I ran a discount promotion for a couple of days for the e-book version of The Shopkeeper. I don’t believe in offering free e-books because there is no lasting effect beyond a couple days. Many people gather up free books and never bother to read them. I’ve discovered that there is an entirely different dynamic for 99¢ e-books. Evidently this tiny fee motivates people to read the book.

 I decided to use a brief 99¢ price for the first novel in the Steve Dancy Tales to give a boost to the entire series. It worked far better than I expected. Not only did The Shopkeeper sell almost two thousand copies, all the other books in the series showed accelerated sales. Actually, it has been over a month since the promotion and all five books in the series still sell at more than double the pace of sales prior to the promotion. Free e-books have no legs, but 99¢ e-books seem to have a long tail.

None of this was news to me. But I did make an observation about this promotion that had previously eluded me. If a promotion goes well and readers like the book, then word of mouth accelerates sales in other formats and for other books by the same author. I never track audio sales because they’re small compared to other formats. I kept an eye on them this time, and I noticed a major surge in sales about a week or so after the promotion. Print sales also surprisingly increased, and sales of my other books grew significantly. The additional sales could only come from word of mouth because none of these other books or formats were discounted or promoted beyond my normal feeble efforts. People who liked The Shopkeeper told other people about my books. Some marketing gurus tell you to make fans out of your readers. Good advice, but if you really want to sell lots of books, turn your readers into your own personal sales force.

How? Write an engaging story that never jerks your reader out of the story. This means you need to keep the story moving forward, avoid unnecessary plot detours, and have it all professionally packaged. If you enthrall your readers, they’ll tell their friends, family, and neighbors about this great new author they found. After you have a large and growing sales force, you can concentrate on what you really love to do—write.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Life without laptop

Last week I wrote about living without my handy Kindle. I relearned how to buy a paperback at the airport and life went on. Something far worse happened. My laptop went belly-up. Now, that shouldn’t have been a big problem, except my desktop computer is a massive-screen Macintosh that I use to edit home movies and my wife uses for everything I can’t do. That means the machine is loaded up with graphical, video, and photographic software. No Microsoft Office. Since Microsoft no longer allows the Office suite to be installed on three machines with a single license, we live without it on our Macintosh. The absence of this ubiquitous app occasionally irritates me, my wife almost never notices. And it’s her machine after all.

I use my trusty portable computer four to eight hours every day, so this appendage is a life necessity. I immediately ran to a couple of stores and eventually decided on a new machine. Being clever, I decided to go home and buy it on Amazon to save a few bucks. I get free shipping and I could read hard copy books I had bought for research on my next Steve Dancy Tale. Except … it was just ahead of the Labor Day weekend. Not only did the machine not get delivered, the holiday weekend backed up deliveries so much they didn’t get it to me until Thursday. Evidently, 2-day shipping is a highly elastic term.

Normally, I’m relegated to the basement with my laptop. During this hiatus, I was regularly upstairs asking my wife when she would be done with the computer. I paced around with a heavy footfall until she relented and let me use her machine. I wanted to try Open Office, check email, see how many of my books had sold, visit social sites, and generally get my computer fix. (I found Open Office to be wonderful substitute for the MS variety, but misgivings about compatibility with the next release kept me from working heavily on my next book.)

Then the big day arrivedmy brandy new computer sat on my front porch. Now I can get back to writing … just as soon as I get everything reloaded and organized to my liking.