Sunday, March 30, 2014

Not this day

I'm staying in San Diego for the winter and have been able to do two of my favorite things: writing and surfing.

I’m happy to make progress on Crossing The Animas, but surfing is a greater treat because I live most of the year in the heartland. The problem with surfing is that it requires a cooperative ocean, a rarity in Nebraska. On this visit to Pacific Beach, the ocean has been semi-cooperative. We've had days of heavy breezes, tiny waves, and rain, but also plenty of days of good surf. During the week, the crowds have been reasonable, but the weekends are a different matter. The two enemies of surfing are crowds in the water and wind. A 56 hour workweek would fix one, but Mother Nature seems to have a mind of her own.

action adventure
Crowded Wave

ocean action
Wind Blown
After a long absence, I always wonder if can still surf. This is a young person’s sport, and every time I look in the mirror, I’m reminded that I’m in a different category. Do I have the stamina, and more important, can I handle a wave if I catch one. When you get older and stay inland most of the year, surfing feels iffy.  It’s strenuous, especially when you don’t do it every day. The good news is that I continue to enjoy myself and get a few good rides each time I go out.

One day will be my last day surfing, but happily, not this day.

Action adventure fiction
Visit my Pinterest Board on surfing

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Are Box Sets a Good Idea for Series Authors?

The Steve Dancy Box Set
Many series authors issue box sets, including me. A box set includes multiple e-books presented as a collection. I was asked about the profitability of box sets at the Tucson Festival of Books. Not having kept close track, I gave a weak answer. Now that I have my spreadsheets in front of me, I can say categorically that my wishy-washy answer was probably not wishy-washy enough.

The Steve Dancy Box Set includes the first three novels in the series for $9.99. If bought individually, The Shopkeeper, Leadville, and Murder at Thumb Butte would cost $12.97, so the collection is offered at a 23% discount. Since introduction, I've sold over 300 of these sets.

What does this mean? The royalties for these sales are welcome, but short of what I need for my dream house in the Hamptons. I’d be disappointed, but I didn’t issue a box set for the direct income. I wanted to draw new readers into the series. The Shopkeeper was published over six years ago, so anyone coming into the series this late would be a new reader, and hopefully they’ll become a fan who would buy the more recent books.

Will 300 make a big difference? Who knows? But, I don’t think of it as only 300. I believe word-of-mouth is the paramount sales tool for books. After reading three Steve Dancy novels in a row, these happy readers will likely tell their friends, family and neighbors about the books. Three hundred new sales people is well worth the minor effort of putting together a box set.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Smith & Wesson beats four aces.

I've always identified poker with the old west. Jenny’s Revenge starts in Denver, Colorado at the renown Inter-Ocean Hotel. Steve Dancy and his friends get entangled in a crooked poker game that delays their planned trip to Durango. In The Shopkeeper, the first book in the series, the characters play whist instead of poker. I did this as a homage to the 1902 novel The Virginian, where Owen Wister had his cowboys playing whist. I found this interesting because Wister actually experienced the western frontier by visiting Wyoming from 1885 through the 1890s.

Perhaps Maverick had something to do with me connecting poker and the the Old West..

Speaking of crooked card games, here is a classic from WC Fields. They don’t get more crooked than this.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Building a Franchise

Platforms, branding, franchise, fans, discoverability. There are many words bandied about that all represent the same thing: how does an author build a base of loyal readers. Forbes recently published an article by David Vinjamuri  titled: The Strongest Brand In Publishing Is ... The premise of the article is that brand is more important than platform. He argues that if platform was key, celebrity books would all be successful. One of his interesting observations is that consumers are willing to pay a 66% premium for a book by a favorite author over an unknown author. This means favorite authors sell more books at a higher price. It does seem that brand loyalty is more important than a social media platform.

So, how do you build a literary brand? Although not called out specifically by Vinjamuri , it appears that characterization is the most crucial element. Granted, authors need to know how to write and tell a good story, but readers develop the greatest loyalty to a character. A good character draws readers back to an author faster than fame, storytelling, or exceptional writing skill.

The strongest brand in the most recent Codex survey is Jack Reacher, who is a character created by Lee Child. Reacher is completely different from the stereotypical thriller hero. Jack Reacher novels have sold over 70 million copies, making Child comfortable enough to buy a Boeing product. Vinjamuri writes, “Child carries a higher percentage of his readers with him to each successive book than any other bestselling author.”

If you’re interested in finding out how Child accomplished this, get it from the horse’s mouth. In Vinjamuri’s article, Child gives three perceptive reasons why Reacher has strong brand loyalty.

Now, if I can just get Steve Dancy an introduction to Jack Reacher, all will be right in the world.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Do teachers have no respect for writers?

The Cornishman reports that Mounts Bay Academy has banned red markers. Red ink will be replaced with green to protect the self-esteem of delicate English children. (This is already a common practice in many American schools.)

Vice principal Jennie Hick told The Cornishman: “Switching to the new marking system is certainly not about us going all soft and fuzzy. Students make more progress if it is a dialogue and the new system is designed to help that. A teacher will make two or three positive comments about a student’s homework and point out perhaps one thing that will take them to the next stage. I think it was felt that red ink was a very negative colour.”

Wow. I wonder if my editor understands that I would write so much better if she would use green ink and bracketed every correction with positive comments. Are teachers unaware how devastating it will be for aspiring writers to see their work critiqued for the first time as adults? Besides, do school administrators really believe kids can’t recognize a negative comment if camouflaged in green ink?

Nothing is more shocking to self-esteem than submitting written work to an editor.  Red ink abounds. I have learned more from editors than from classes, workshops, and how-to books. I also feel challenged to do as good of work as I am capable of prior to submittal. I would suggest future authors would benefit from unrestrained critiques presented in red ink.

On the other hand, I do like kind words.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Talk is not cheap!

“People don't talk like this, theytalklikethis. Syllables, words, sentences run together like a watercolor left in the rain. “ Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way
“If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ pasdlgkhasdfasdf.” Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

When I was at the Tucson Festival of Books, I was asked how I learned to write dialogue. Although I had no intention of ever writing a movie script, I studied several books on screenwriting. Screenplays focus on dialogue with only sketchy descriptions of place. The spoken word is crucial for all movies that don’t spray spent casings all over the landscape or use explosive fireballs to punctuate scenes. So, if you want to improve your dialogue skills, study screenplays.

Dialogue exists in novels to move the plot forward or to reveal character, or both. There is no place for small talk in a novel. Every word that’s inside quotes—or outside, for that matter—must have a purpose. Dialogue is engineered by the author. It is not natural, but must sound natural. Authenticity comes from providing clues so the reader can fill in the blanks. For example, a hint of an accent is all that is needed for readers to hear a character speak a dialect.

Richard Ford wrote in The Lay of the Land, “You rarely miss anything by cutting most people off after two sentences.” This is perfect advice for your characters. Dialogue should be taut and tense. Off the top of my head, here are a few other thoughts on dialogue:
  • Dialogue is not the place for exposition.
  • Soliloquies are out of style.
  • Characters should not tell each other what they both already know.
  • Heavy accents and odd speech patterns take the reader out of the storya mortal sin.
  • Different characters should speak differently.
  • Personality is revealed in how your characters speak and what they say.

These are not rules, but guidelines. Each one will be broken brilliantly by writers who know exactly what they are doing. I can’t wait to read their work.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Wow, that was fun!

The 2014 Tucson Festival of Books is over, but thankfully, there will be a TFoB 2015. They expected 240,000 and my guess is that they made their number easily. Workshops and author sessions were pretty much full to capacity and booths had crowds all day long. The culinary and children's tracks were exceptionally popular. If you have never been to one of these events, you really need to try one in your area. You'll meet a lot of great people. Book lovers are a friendly bunch.

I hope you enjoy these photos while I catch my breath and a couple waves in Pacific Beach.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tucson Festival of Books

This is a short posting to say the Tucson festival of Books has drawn record crowds of readers and authors. All the sessions appear to be SRO, with many turned away at the door. I had an active session on Saturday and look forward to two panels todays. I also attended several other presentations and they were outstanding with lots of questions and answers.

When my wife left me thirty minutes early to see Sandra Day O'Connor’s workshop, the line was already well beyond the capacity of the auditorium. Too bad. O’Connor wrote one of my favorite Western books. Granted, it was a children’s’ book, but I believe it still qualifies as a Western. Chico tells the story of her childhood pony and how it saved her life. Great illustrations and my grandchildren love the story.

If you’re in the vicinity, come on down. You can catch me at one of my panels or at a book signing directly after the sessions.

Also, don’t miss the Western Writers of America booth. There are always some great Western writers waiting to meet you.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Springtime in the Sonoran Desert

I arrived in Arizona last night with my wife. For the next two days, we’ll be staying with friends in their home surrounded by a stunning desert landscape. There are very few landscapes prettier than the Sonoran desert in the spring. I’ve been all over the world, and except for the dunes of Namibia, I believe the Arizona desert is the most beautiful in the world.

From here, we will drive down to Tucson for the Tucson Festival of Books. I’m a panelist in three sessions: Amazon for Authors, What to Expect With Self-Publishing, and Genre Writing. There will be a lot of great authors at the event and the festival ought to be fun. If you love books, there is no better place to be this weekend.

After the festival, we go to San Diego for two weeks of thawing out. There was little snow in Nebraska this year, but I could answer my wife’s question about the temperature with the fingers of a single hand. We have quests and family visiting us, but I should have plenty of time to catch a few waves.

Before returning home to Omaha, we’ll fly to New York City for 10 ten days to see our other grandchildren. My wife said something about shopping, but I’m sure I can bribe the grandkids to distract her.

When we get home after a month, our new house will be waiting. We’ll have more boxes to unpack, pictures to hang, paraphernalia to buy, and lots of handyman tasks. Maybe we’ll stay away longer, in hope that things will just sort themselves out. Fat chance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Large Print Edition of The Return Now Available

The large print edition of The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale became available in March. Center Point Publishing has released all four Steve Dancy books in large print.  (The Shopkeeper and Leadville are sold out, but used copies are available at Amazon and other booksellers.) As of this writing, The Return has 30 Amazon customer reviews for 4.9 stars. This fourth novel in the series has also received good reviews from Western Writers of America, Bookviews,, and Brandywine. 

Libraries continue to form the core of large-print business, but these library-bound editions also make terrific gifts. Books as gifts provide hours of pleasure and an ability to write a personal message on the flyleaf that won't be discarded like most greeting cards. 

Western fiction

Honest westerns ... filled with dishonest characters.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How do you sell lots of books?

The most frequent question I get at book events is how to sell more books. This is disconcerting because I want to talk about how to write better books. Here's the short answer to the question: you sell more books by artfully writing a good story and then selling one book at a time. Many striving authors give up when they participate in an event and sell only a few books.  Throw away all of the social media and traditional marketing advice you've ever heard, the most powerful selling tool for books is word-of-mouth. Get your book into a reader's hands and if they like it, they'll become your salesperson. Get a dozen salespeople and they'll multiply into a hundred. But there is a prerequisite—you must first write a good book. No one recommends a book that bored or annoyed them. So tell a good story ... and tell it well.

See you at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Which bestselling author is on American currency?

Money is printed by the government, so the faces on our various bills tend to be politicians. Okay, they’re all politicians. Three were not presidents: Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, and Salmon P. Chase on the discontinued $10,000 bill. Only one visage on U.S. currency was a bestselling author. In fact, this individual became fabulously wealthy because nearly every home in America owned a copy of one of his books. He also wrote a famous autobiography that has never been out of print.

Most politicians write memoirs or autobiographies to set the record straight, but Benjamin Franklin would probably have taken umbrage at being called a politician. He was a businessman, inventor, philanthropist, scientist, and writer. He just dabbled in politics. Benjamin Franklin was America’s true Renaissance Man. 

His writing made him one of the top 100 richest Americans in history. For nearly thirty years, only the Bible outsold Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and his articles made the Pennsylvania Gazette the most successful newspaper in the colonies. Even today, schoolchildren can still recite his words. Mostly he wrote nonfiction, but he had the novelist talent for bending the truth to tell a good story. 

William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens have graced British currency, and in 2017 Jane Austen will join their ranks on the £10 note. They were fine writers as well, but here in America, the Franklin is a fine tribute to all of our great and striving authors.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Panelist at Tucson Festival of Books

The Tucson Festival of Books (March 15-16) is the largest book festival in the southwest. Featured authors include: Richard Russo, Alice Hoffman, Scott Turow, Sandra Day O'Connor, Craig Johnson, and Jacqueline Woodson. The agenda has been finalized and I’ll be a panelist in three sessions.

Amazon for Authors                                       Saturday, March 15         1:00-2:00           
What to Expect with Self-Publishing               Sunday, March 16            10:00-11:00        

Genre Writing                                                Sunday, March 16            2:30 to 3:30        

If you’re in the neighborhood, come on over. It’s a load of fun and I’ll be pleased to meet you, as will many other authors at the event. Book signing, author panels, industry seminars, and good food. What could be better?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Technology Run Amok?

JR Sanders posted a Facebook reference to a new reading technology. Instead of words spread across a page or screen, a stream of words is presented, one word at a time. You can see an interesting demonstration at the spritz home page. Supposedly, you can read much faster by not moving your eyes. Now you can read completely immobile. You do, however, still need to lift that cup of coffee to your lips and swallow.

Spritz claims you could read one of my Steve Dancy Tales in well under 2 hours. I’m not impressed. I searched all over the site, but found no new gizmo that will help me write faster. While I’m stuck at about a thousand words a day, my readers will plow through my stories at 1,000 words per minute! Something does not compute. I already feel stressed because it takes so long to publish the next book in the series.

I’m not sure what’s so new about this concept anyway; after all, ticker tapes have been around for eons, albeit missing the eye catching red letter, of course. I think there are some great applications for this technology, but not fiction. Fiction should be savored, not forced fed. And force fed was my impression of the Spritz demo. My attention could never lapse, I had difficulty absorbing numbers, and I couldn’t retrace my steps. I felt like I was at the gym trying to beat my personal best. Oh well, I’m an old fuddy-duddy. The kids flit from thing to thing so fast they probably wouldn't read fiction unless they could finish it before getting to the front of a TSA line at the airport.

I do have one question. Will paragraphs matter anymore?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Jack Reacher—my new role model?

I spent some time this morning with Steve Dancy. I didn’t write a lot of new material, but I did edit the last couple of chapters I’d written before we moved into our new home. I was able to get back to Steve because I’ve finished unpacking the last indoor box from our move. (Unfortunately, there are still loads of garage boxes yet to be dealt with.) You might think Steve Dancy is my favorite literary character, but I’ve recently developed a fondness for Lee Child’s character Jack Reacher. Reacher travels unfettered by personal belongings—no house, no car, no wardrobe, no knickknacks. Reacher carries only a toothbrush and buys new clothes when the ones he is wearing get dirty. Wow, the freedom. I, on the other hand, am anchored by countless possessions that possess me.

I enjoy the Jack Reacher novels and suspect Lee Child invented the character after a vexing move to a new house. If so, it was a brilliant way to transform hardship into largess. Dancy moves around as well, but through the magic of fiction, he transports everything he needs effortlessly. I wish I could jump into one of my books where everything happens in an ordered fashion. My order, of course. Unfortunately, I live in a world of corrugated board, cluttering stuff spread all over every flat surface, and pictures galore leaned against any open wall space. I think I’ll make a trip to the pharmacy to buy a toothbrush.