Friday, December 21, 2012

Steve Dancy Tales -- Kindle Bargain

James D. Best 

                   The Steve Dancy Box Set

Books provide hours upon hours of entertainment. If you're looking for rousing fiction, consider the Steve Dancy Kindle Box Set. The set includes The Shopkeeper, Leadville, and Murder at Thumb Butte, all three for $8.99, which is five dollars less than buying each book individually. Together, the three Western novels have 790 Amazon Customer Reviews for 4.4 stars and 1,878 Goodreads ratings for 4.0 Stars.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bad Review Got You Down—Even the Best Get Dumped On

Huffington Post Books published an article titled "Bad Reviews Of Great Authors." When you get a bad review of your work, it’s comforting to know that supposed experts hated these classics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
"There is not in the entire dramatis persona, a single character which is not utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible."  Atlas, 1848

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
"Mr. Updike’s descriptions of these magical doings are cringe-making in the extreme, not funny or satiric as he perhaps intends."  Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

fiction writing
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
"... the book is sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous. Mr. Melville's Quakers are the wretchedest dolts and drivellers, and his Mad Captain ... is a monstrous bore." Charleston Southern Quarterly Review, 1852

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that... Only Gatsby himself genuinely lives and breathes. The rest are mere marionettes—often astonishingly lifelike, but nevertheless not quite alive." H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
"Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive." Orville Prescott, The New York Times, 1958

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
"... it is impossible to imagine how any man's fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid filth, unless he were possessed of the soul of a sentimental donkey that had died of disappointed love." Rufus Wilmot Griswold, The Criterion, 1855

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
“What other culture could have produced someone like Hemingway and not seen the joke?” Gore Vidal

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Europe's Infatuation with the American Wild West

Django Unchained
Sometimes we forget that American genre fiction is popular overseas—Westerns included. And why not? We might think of the Wild West as uniquely American, but we enjoy King Arthur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Count of Monte Cristo, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and samurai adventures. If you write genre fiction, don't neglect this market. (The Steve Dancy Tales are popular in foreign counties, especially England and Germany.) 

If you want a feel for Euro-Westerns, visit The Tainted Archive which is based in the United Kingdom. This article is about Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti Westerns. Not as well known as Sergio Leone, Corbucci wrote and directed the original Django, among other Westerns.

It used to be difficult to sell in foreign markets, but not anymore. This is another major change brought about by eBooks. Your book can be decomposed into ones and zeros, bytes can sprint across the globe at the speed of light, and then be instantly reassembled in some far off land. In a small way, Scotty of Star Trek fame has been displaced by a Kindle.

Monday, December 17, 2012

One of the First Mass-Market Bestsellers

The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains by Owen Wister was one of the first mass-market bestsellers. The 1902 novel received immediate critical acclaim and was hugely popular, eventually spawning five films, a successful play, and a television series. An instant success, it sold over 20 thousand copies in the first month, an astonishing number for the time. It went on to sell over 200,000 thousand copies in the first year, and over a million and a half prior to Wister's death. This Western classic has never been out of print. (You can read my review, "The Virginian, A Classic Western Revisited" at Ezine Articles.)

The Virginian inspired hundreds of stories about the Old West—including the Steve Dancy Tales. After reading The Virginian, I thought it would make an interesting story if the Easterner was the protagonist rather than the narrator. I always enjoyed fish-out-of-water stories.

The Virginian is credited with inventing the literary Western, and many people are familiar with the book. Less is generally known about Owen Wister. In 2002, Harvard Magazine published a short biography of Wister: oddly titled "Owen Wister, Brief life of a Western mythmaker:1860-1938." (By my math he lived to be 78 years old.) Thousands of Westerns have been written, but The Virginian set the benchmark for excellence in the genre.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

This is my favorite time of year. How could it not be? We not only celebrate Christmas with my daughter and her family, but each year on the 27th we all fly to some fun destination and meet up with our son and his family. We get to see our kids and all six grandchildren together. It's a great way to ring in the New Year because it reminds us of what is really important in life. May all of you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2013.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Leonard's ten rules for writing

Owen Wister
Elmore Leonard

In 2009, The Western Writers of America presented Elmore Leonard with their prestigious Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement. Leonard wrote 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre, Last Stand at Saber River, and many other Westerns. He also wrote novels outside the Western genre, including Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight.

Leonard published his 10 Rules of Writing, which was actually a padded version of his New York Times article. The book may be panned for its brevity, but the advice is sound.

Leonard's ten rules for writing

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said."
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke out."
7. Use regional dialects, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Polish your manuscript

It is the superfluous things for which men sweat.
Seneca (c. 5 BC-AD c. 65), Roman writer

A friend of mine unintentionally changed my attitude toward revisions. He restores antique cars and starts each project with barely more than a chassis and some rusted sheet metal. With utmost care, he painstakingly replaces every single part until his recreation is better than the shiny piece of the American dream that was driven off the showroom. When he finishes, we go on a ride and I can tell he enjoys the envious looks and honks from other car enthusiasts.

After these inaugural rides, I always assumed the cars were finished, but every time I visited, he would be in the garage replacing this piece or that piece. If he wasn't installing a newly acquired part, he would be polishing nooks and crannies that no one in a standing position would ever see. Sometimes I'd come over to find that he had painted the car a different color or replaced perfectly good upholstery.

One day I asked him if he ever tired of constantly changing an already beautiful car.

"Hell no," he said. "Building the car is work. This is the fun part."

"The fun part?"

"Whenever I start a new project car, I look forward to the day when the basic restoration is done so I can perfect it . My joy is in making it flawless. I fix the little details so people love to spend time with my creation."

"But you keep working on it. How do you know when it's perfect?"

"One day I'll walk all around it, open the doors, lift the hood, examine the truck and there won't be any more changes I want to make." He shrugged. "Then I sell it and start all over again."

Now I look forward to completing a manuscript so I can tighten and polish it until there are no more changes I want to make. Then I sell it and start all over again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Future of Large Print

The popularity of eReaders has decimated the mass paperback market, and several publishers have even abandoned the format. An eReader can display font in any size, so I assumed the next casualty of eBooks would be large print. Not so. Or, at least, not yet. When I received my statement from my large print publisher, I was pleasantly surprised. How is it that large print holds its own against the ebook revolution?

I think it has to do with the market for large print books. Whether it’s libraries or direct purchase, the market is seniors. Seniors are not gadget prone and remain attached to the feel and simplicity of a real book. No buttons, no touch screens, no hot links. Books are what seniors have read their entire life and only their children prod them to change. Seniors can’t see the point. They get lost in the story and turn the page without conscious thought, just a motor reflex learned through decades of practice. 

The boomers will probably carry their eReaders into old age, but most of their parents will remain loyal to the printed book.

If you're looking for a senior gift, you might consider one of these large print books.

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

All of the Steve Dancy Tales have been published in large print, library binding editions by Center Point. Some have sold out, but are still available through used book dealers.

Monday, December 10, 2012

If you do nothing, nothing happens!

A few days ago, I posted an article titled “How do you pick your next book to read?” I received a couple questions on a throwaway comment that “sales can occur a considerable time after a promotional event.”

My background is direct marketing , so I understood why this statement was troubling. The mantra in direct marketing is measure and react. If you can’t measure due to an extended time delay, how can you react by adjusting or amplifying your marketing actions? 

I don’t know.

I do know personal appearances like signings, club presentations, and book festivals work because even if I don’t sell many books at the event, I see Amazon sales improve the following week. But what about greater delays? Most people take a long time to read a book, and prolific readers always have a queue. How do you know what specific event caused a reader to download a sample of your book onto an eReader? How long does it take for a reader to get around to a free sample they downloaded? Another question: do sample chapters at the end of your book generate follow-on sales?

One time I sat down and made a list of all the marketing things I was doing and then separated them into three groups: 1) actions that didn't work, 2) actions that did work, 3) actions I didn't know if they worked or not. You guessed it; the third category was by far the longer list. 

The real issue isn't whether something works or not, but which actions are the most productive. I know the #1 most productive marketing action. Write a darn good book—one that will generate word-of-mouth. Beyond that, I’m at a loss.

I may not know which other actions are productive, but I have learned the cardinal rule of book marketing.

If you do nothing ... nothing happens!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Mythology of the Old West

For me, there are three major elements of good western. The first is the romance of a new beginning, the second is the battle of good versus evil, and the third is the lone warrior who sets things right.

Hopalong Cassidy
 as illustrated by Frank Earle Schoonover, 1905 

  • The old west represents a fresh beginning in a new place away from home - the shrugging off of disappointments and a chance to start all over again. Emigrating to a frontier means you get a do-over in a land with no rules, no referees, and no fences. 
  • The mythical old west is a black and white world. Good fights evil and good usually triumphs. In stories of the Old West, ordinary people are capable of extraordinary heroism. 
  • But raw frontiers are dangerous, so even courageous pioneers need help. No civilization means no restraints on bad people doing bad things. Help comes in the shape of an idealized hero, a paladin who risks his life to save the day and asks nothing in return.

These themes have been a part of storytelling in every society since the first cave drawings. You'll also find these elements dominate fantasy and science fiction. The frontier in these genres can be the future, outer space, or a make-believe land. The gunfighter has a simple solution on his hip, while Frodo has the ring and Harry Potter the magic wand.

You can read my article "Is the Mythology of the Old West Dead?" by following this link.

western storytelling
Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How do you pick your next book to read?

shredded wheat
I'm a compulsive reader. I read everything and I read all the time. I suspect it started when I was in the fifth grade and I spent my breakfast reading the shredded wheat box. I even read the dividers that separated the rows of three biscuits. Nabisco sponsored the television program Sargent Preston of the Yukon and my hero was all over the box and dividers. That's how I ended up owning one square inch in the Klondike. Darn, I wish I still had my deed.

alaskaYou'll be pleased to know I've graduated from cereal boxes to books. First the Hardy Boys, and then mass paperbacks. I was a junior in high school when I discover nonfiction with Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960. College introduced me to classics.

In adulthood, I wandered books stores and paperback racks looking for my next read. Bestsellers lists had already down-selected which books got prominent display, and I usually picked by author or back cover copy.

The publishing world has changed. Bookstores are becoming rarer, yet there are tens of thousands of more books available. The shelf-life of a book has been extended well beyond presence on a bestseller list. Electronic books are increasingly taking over fiction and narrative prose. Old book selection tools like magazines and newspapers are withering. Literary reviews are being displaced by reader reviews.

So how does a person pick their next book to read? For me, it's easy. I carry my Kindle with me almost everywhere. Writing has crowded out my reading time, so I read in line at the airport, in my doctor's lobby, in the car as my wife runs into a store, or while eating breakfast or lunch. I also have my Kindle with me when I watch television. It's always around when I use my computer. Why? It has to do with how I pick my next book to read. Whenever I hear or read about a book that sounds interesting, I immediately download a sample onto my kindle. I do this while talking to friends, watching television, surfing the Internet, attending book events, or when reading a periodical. After I finish a book, I metaphorically thumb through my samples, usually reading a chapter or two, then select my next book. At any point in time, I probably have twenty books queued up.

Electronic reading devices have changed the publishing industry and reading habits. It has also changed the way we chose books.
  1. Back copy is less important than the opening of the book 
  2. Bestseller lists mean less than frequent mention on broadcast and cable outlets
  3. Social media builds name recognition
  4. Word-of-mouth is even more powerful
This means emerging authors have tools to compete with famous authors. More important  sales can occur a considerable time after a promotional event. Book sales are now a long-haul business. Someone might download a book sample weeks, or even months before they make a purchase decision.

In fact, you might consider downloading samples for these books.

Happy reading.

action adventure
Click to download samples.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Western Heritage in Literature

Western fiction is frequently disparaged as illegitimate literature. This myth is perpetuated by classifying literary stories that occur in the West as something other than a Western. Many of the smart people believe Westerns are dime novels, pulp fiction, and straight-to-paperback formula bunkum. But the Western has a long and valid history in literature.

James Fenimore Cooper may have been the first Western author of note. The Last of the Mohicans and the rest of the Leatherstocking Tales were in the Western tradition. Written in 1826 about events that supposedly occurred nearly seventy-five years prior, The Last of the Mohicans incorporates all of the characteristics of a modern Western.

Mark Twain is universally acknowledged as one of the great American literary figures, but is seldom referred to as a Western writer. Yet, Roughing It is a first-hand description of the Wild West of Virginia City during the heyday of the Comstock Lode. Granted, Roughing It is Twain-enriched non-fiction, but The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are coming-of-age novels set on the American frontier.

When Owen Wister published The Virginian in 1902, the novel received critical acclaim and was a huge bestseller, eventually spawning five films, a successful play, and a television series. An instant success, it sold over 20 thousand copies in the first month, an astonishing number for the time. It went on to sell over 200,000 thousand copies in the first year, and over a million and a half copies prior to Wister's death. This classic has never been out of print.

Max Brand, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Jack Schaefer, Elmer Kelton, Larry McMurtry, and Cormac McCarthy continued the Western tradition and all of them have been highly successful. Recently Nancy E. Turner (These is my Words) and Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers) have penned praiseworthy Westerns that are popular with readers.

Western literature has a grand heritage and will continue to appeal to readers all over the world.   Good writing, sound plots that move with assurance, and great characterization will elevate the genre back the top of the bestseller charts.

Here are the bestselling Westerns.
The Steve Dancy Tales

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Authors Acting Badly Toward Other Authors

Jack Kerouac
Truman Capote

Writing as contact sport.

"That's not writing, that's typing."—Truman Capote to Jack Kerouac

"The world is rid of him, but the deadly slime of his touch remains."—John Constable about the death of Lord Byron

"Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"—Mary McCarthy about Lillian Hellman

"If he really meant what he writes, he would not write at all."Gore Vidal about Henry Miller

"I am fairly unrepentant about her poetry. I really think that three quarters of it is gibberish. However, I must crush down these thoughts, otherwise the dove of peace will shit on me."—Noel Coward about Dame Edith Sitwell

"He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it."—T. S. Eliot about Henry James

"She was a master at making nothing happen very slowly."—Clifton Fadiman about Gertrude Stein

"The stupid person's idea of the clever person."—Elizabeth Bowen about Aldous Huxley

"To those she did not like she was a stiletto made of sugar."—John Mason Brown about Dorothy Parker

"To me Pound remains the exquisite showman without the show."—Ben Hecht about Ezra Pound

"His verse is the beads without the string."—Gerard Manley Hopkins about Robert Browning

"He is mad, bad and dangerous to know."—Lady Caroline Lamb about Lord Byron

"Nothing but old fags and cabbage-stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest, stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness."—D. H. Lawrence about James Joyce

"He writes his plays for the ages - the ages between five and twelve."—George Nathan about George Bernard Shaw

"Virginia Woolf's writing is no more than glamorous knitting. I believe she must have a pattern somewhere."—Dame Edith Sitwell about Virginia Woolf

"A great zircon in the diadem of American literature."—Gore Vidal about Truman Capote

"The only genius with an IQ of 60."—Gore Vidal about Andy Warhol

"He is able to turn an unplotted, unworkable manuscript into an unplotted and unworkable manuscript with a lot of sex."—Tom Volpe about Harold Robbins