Sunday, March 31, 2013

Will Libraries End up as Museums?

reading, writing, and arithmatic

Are books becoming obsolete? Is a library the only place we’ll be able to see these odd antiquities? Will librarians admonish us “don’t touch,” instead of shushing chatterboxes? Are we entering a binary world where everything is decomposed into a series of ones and zeros to be instantly reassembled on a hand-held device?

reading and writing
My Dream Library - A Great Place to Read

Libraries may one day become faux ambiance designed for reading books on an electronic device. I've had a library built in my last three homes. Now, I’m moving once again and my biggest task is going through thousands of books to decide which ones I really want to keep. I'll build a formal library in my new house, but it will certainly not be as large as my current one.

I've had friends tell me they prefer a real book because they like the scent and feel and the genuine article. Then someone gives them an e-reader. Soon, they discover that the medium doesn't matter; they still get lost in the words. By the third novel, they’re converts.

There might be some truth in the demise of the book … at least as a commodity. But it will not happen as quickly as pundits predict and some form of books will always be with us. 

Books started as art, and I suspect they will return to art. Nobody will miss the mass paperback, or even cheaply printed and bound hardcovers. Books will once again become beautiful … but I still won’t need a big library because they’ll also become much more expensive.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Author Interview by Tom Rizzo

Not too many posts lately because my brother is visiting from Hawaii and we're surfing everyday at Tourmaline Beach. My sister is also here, so the conversations go late into the night and I forget all about social media. Even my email is stacking up like two-by-fours at a lumber yard.

Tom Rizzo did a nice interview with me, so I took a few moments to post a link to his website.

Link to interview

"JAMES D. BEST likes to write what he calls “fish-out-of-water” stories. He has written six novels and a non-fiction technology book that he says “you don’t really want to buy.” Visit his website and he’ll tell you why. Jim has also served as a ghostwriter, a magazine columnist, and is an active blogger. Learn more about him, his stories, his thoughts on Westerns as historical fiction, and the key element needed for any successful novel."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Getting Top Ranking at Amazon—Easy as PW Says?

book sales bestsellers

Publishers Weekly has an article that estimates the number of sales required to reach a Top 5 ranking on Amazon. Something doesn’t look right. PW estimate that as few as 300 print sales per day will win a coveted spot in the Top 5. This is based on monitoring the ranking and sales for one book for two weeks.

book sales
Here’s why I think the estimate is off. My best sales day was 660 books for Tempest at Dawn. This occurred  after a television appearance and sales remained above 300 per day for nearly a week. Although the book made #1 in several categories like Historical Fiction, it only briefly broke through the top 100 for general sales. Also, The Shopkeeper has had spurts of very good sales, but only temporarily has broken the Top 1,000 in books. Sales would need to increase exponentially to get a Top 5 ranking.

Is it possible that the shift to e-books has so dramatically reduced print sales at Amazon that 300 sales per day would land you on top of the heap? I doubt it. It’s more likely that faulty assumptions resulted in the smallish number. We’ll never know, of course, because Amazon keeps all of its sales data close to the vest.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Author Interview with Robert Peecher

Robert Peecher, author and journalist, has published an interview with me on his blog.

Q. When you started writing did you know Steve Dancy’s character, or did he develop for you through the telling of the story?

Best: I knew his character from the start, but that said, every character must grow or the story will become stale. By the fourth book, he is a much more mature character than at the beginning of the series. I had nothing to do with it. He learned and grew as he ventured around the frontier and I scribbled down what he did and how he did it.
The Steve Dancy Tales

You can read the full interview at robertpeecher. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Word-of-Mouth is Still King

Goodreads has completed a survey of their members about how they discovered books. They published the results at the link below.

Goodreads Survey

How do people discover what book to read? Unsurprisingly, word-of-mouth is still king. A recommendation from a trusted friend is the top answer, with "Everyone talking about it" in second place. The third most frequent answer: a book club recommendation. Since book clubs are made up of trusted fellow readers, I would add this answer to the word-of-mouth category. These three answers put together dwarf all of the other responses.

bestsellers bestselling
What does this mean for an aspiring author? One thing, and one thing only: write a good book. There are many out there who believe the trick is to jump on the next e-book marketing gimmick. That works ... but only for a brief period. People don't recommend or talk about shoddy books. If word-of-mouth is the #1, #2, and #3 best way to sell books, then authors need to write books that people want to share with friends. As Goodreads says, the survey pointed out "one powerful need: wanting to be connected with our 'tribe' through stories." 

So if you want to be an author instead of a digital huckster, write a good story, polish it to perfection, have it professionally edited and proofread, and then do it all again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Did I just write a Western?

Steve Dancy Tale
Working Cover

I'm about to send The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale to my editor. One step closer to publishing, but still a ways to go.

In this episode, Dancy and his friends visit Thomas Edison in New York City and Menlo Park, New Jersey. Although the story starts in Leadville, Colorado, the plot mostly takes place on the East Coast. Louis L'Amour once said, "If you write about a bygone period east of the Mississippi River, it's a historical novel. If it's west of the Mississippi it's a Western." So ... did geography change this from a Western to a historical novel? The Return includes the same characters, they act the same, and they get into more fights. (I’m talking about the protagonists, of course. The antagonists seem to keep getting killed.)

In the end, I believe it is still a Western because the characters are Westerners through and through. Even Steve Dancy has been transformed. Everyone is a fish out of water. Kinda like Crocodile Dundee meets the 19th century.

Why did I bring my characters east? As I've mentioned previously, The Virginian was the inspiration for the Steve Dancy books. I liked the end of Wister's book where the newly married Virginian and his wife visit her family in New Hampshire. It provided a great contrast between the supposed civilized East Coast versus the values and perspectives of the frontier. I wanted to do something similar with The Return.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Shopkeeper exceeds 100 Customer Reviews

steve dancy tale
A few weeks ago, The Shopkeeper has reached a milestone, so to speak. The novel was reviewed for the 100th time by an Amazon customer. One hundred reviews for 4.3 Stars. Needless to say, I'm pleased. Thanks to all of my readers.

My ratio of reviews to book sales is about one half of a percent. So that means one out of two hundred readers return to write a review. I'm not sure if that's good or bad compared to other books, but I appreciate the people who made the extra effort to provide feedback ... good and bad.

I read every customer review. It's surprising how much I learn. One surprise is that nearly half of the reviewers are women. By looking at reviewer profile pages, I'm also surprised how many are young, or at least have young tastes in the other products they buy and review. I want to appeal to a broad audience, so I'm thrilled.

Read reviews of James D. Best books
Read Amazon reviews
Read Goodreads reviews

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Novels That Will Scare You Silly

horror, horror movies, fiction writing

I don't write scary novels, but I read them. Done right, they can give you an adrenalin rush while your partner snores beside you.

io9 posted a list of "10 Novels That Are Scarier Than Most HorrorMovies." It's a good list and if you really like scary novels, you can discover many more in the 500+ comments. Happy reading!

Stephen king
Original Cover
henry james

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Guest essayist on Constituting America

I had the honor of being invited to write another essay for Constituting America. This one is on a sermon delivered by Gad Hitchcock in 1774. 
"How did a revolution commence in the minds and hearts of Americans? It germinated in pulpits and taverns, and from pamphleteers and newspapers. By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed, there was a colonial consensus on a few key principles. Today, we call these the Founding Principles or First Principles."
You can read the full essay at Constituting America 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The perils of being a midlist novelist

washington d.c.

The Washington Post has done an article on the perils (and rewards) of being a midlist novelist.  Interesting reading. Mary Doria Russell was dropped by Random House just prior to release of her new book Doc, a novel about the legendary John Henry Holliday. Doc has been on my "to read" list for nearly a year. Now, I think I'll move it to the top of my list.

It’s always been tough for first-time novelists to find a publisher. A dirty little industry secret is that it is much more difficult to get a second book published if the first one flops. Baseball gives you three strikes, after a loss you can run for political office again, a musician can usually get a second gig, but writers get one shot at fame and fortune.

Midlist is a tough place to be. It’s easy to slip into oblivion. Poor sales don’t seem to be the problem with Russell’s books. She seemed well ensconced, with good reviews and a dedicated following.

The traditional publishing industry is in the throes of a massive transformation, and Random House’s actions are indicative of this change. Many have said publishing is going the way of digital music, but I think it is going more in the direction of movies. The big Hollywood studios are in constant search of the next blockbuster, while on the side a thriving indie-film industry nurtures creativity and new talent. I suspect the big publishing houses are turning their backs on back-list and mid-list books. That’s okay. Indie-publishing will fill in the gaps.

Link to WAPO article

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Don't like your name? Change it.

nome de plume
What famous author's real name was Howard Allen O'Brien? Unless you already know, you'll never guess. 

11 Points (Because Top 10 Lists are for Cowards) has listed 11 surprising pen names.

The article is interesting, but I think the website is more intriguing. This is a clever book promotion blog. The lists draw readers back time after time and the blog has the type of content people love to share. I probably should develop a core theme for this blog. Except then it would become a chore rather than a fun diversion from my novels. I think I'll stay with eclectic. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Featured Author on Wordpreneur

short interview
Wordpreneur has a regular feature called Peeps. These are short pieces about indie-authors and they were gracious enough to do an article about me.

“Many people claim traditional publishing’s marketing prowess is a huge advantage, but they never mention that the big houses do very little for unknown authors who haven’t committed a high-profile felony. When it comes to marketing, you’re on your own whether you traditionally publish or self-publish.”

Friday, March 1, 2013

How do you decide between First and Third Person?

In a previous post I wrote about giving the reader a clear signal that the point of view was about to change.

In this post I want to discuss one of the writers first and biggest decisions. Before you can write a single word, you need to decide whether the story will be told in the first or third person. I’m assuming that in either case, the author would use past tense. (If a writer wants to attempt second person or present tense, I have no suggestions, but I wish them luck.)

The Steve Dancy Tales are written in first person, while Tempest at Dawn and The Shut Mouth Society are written in third person.

writing tips
First Person Point of View
The standard first person narrative requires a single point of view for the entire book and the story must unfold in front of the main characters eyes. This makes first person popular for detective novels because, except for a few tricks, the reader knows as much as the protagonist. From a plot perspective, first person can be difficult to pull off, but the reader is more likely to become attached to the protagonist. These aspects of a first person narrative caused me to use this point of view for the Steve Dancy Tales.

writing tips
Third Person Point of View
I used third person in Tempest at Dawn. Third person is less personal and facilitates changing points of view. The Constitutional Convention is an iconic event in American History and I wanted the reader to view the events and people from some distance, as if it were a documentary film.

I had major difficultly deciding on the point of view for The Shut Mouth Society. I had just written my first Dancy novel in first person, but I wasn't sure that was the right way to go for a mystery/thriller. My technique for coming to a decision took a couple days of writing. I wrote the first chapter in both first and third person, and then put it aside for three days. When I came back and read the two versions side-by-side, the decision was easy. I wrote the book in third person. Despite having two protagonists, I never switched the point of view.

The connection between the reader and the story is through the narrator. I have a bias toward a single point of view because I think a single storyteller makes this connection stronger and the narrative more memorable. That said, I alternated points of view in Tempest at Dawn because it made sense in the presentation of the story.

A novel must take a reader to another place and time. The author decides how to transport the reader.