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Family, travel, and research

I’ve gotten into a bad habit on the weekends, namely: doing stuff. My husband has said I need to quit it, and sit home and relax. He’s right, but that doesn’t change the fact that I work five days a week, which leaves two to do things in. Like writing, although that’s not usually what I’m doing, and it definitely isn’t what I’m doing this weekend.

This weekend I’m traveling all over Kentucky with my Mom, and two of my kids. We’re looking at houses for Mom, I am conducting research, and the kids are having a broadening experience (translated: bored stiff and playing games on electronic devices in the backseat). On the first leg Mom and I chatted about a number of topics, but I thought a couple were relevant to writers.

Traveling for research is one. I’ve been to KY often enough, but on this trip we’re in areas unknown to me. For a change I’m not driving, so I can watch the scenery go by and get a feel for the region, at least until it got dark. But traveling through an area where you’ve set a book is an excellent idea. Deeper research is even better. The internet allows us to virtually explore, but there’s no real substitute for going somewhere and seeing it up close. The first leg was an overview from interstates and highways, tomorrow we’ll be on tiny back roads for hours. And checking out old houses which is an adventure of a different flavor.

I’d not say that you must visit an area to set a book there. I do think, as Mom and I talked about how much traveling we’ve done (multiple cross-country road trips, travel up the Alaska highway, and others) and where we’d still like to go, that traveling for research is vital to adding little details you might otherwise overlook. Of course, interplanetary travel isn’t possible yet, but seeing more locales on Earth make you better able to write a world with a realistic and varied biome. If you never leave home, you just don’t think about how big our world really is.

We passed a sign for the Lincoln Homestead and started talking about pioneers, what they endure, and tracing some of their paths can inspire not only stories set in the past, but what our future wave of pioneering to the stars might feel like. I talked about seeing a cabin where Dan’l Boone had wintered, with four or five other trappers, and how tiny it was – maybe ten by twelve. She in turn talked about seeing a winter camp in Alaska of a party on their way to the Gold Rush who had been wintered in, a hundred people, families and all, who hastily constructed several ten by twelve cabins and crowded in then to endure the deep cold. The cabins, erected in the 1880s, still stood when she was a girl, their roofs fallen in but otherwise intact. I have trouble imagining months stuck in a single room with several people… Even family!

Getting out and seeing for ourselves is the best way for a writer to create, taking all the odds and ends and blending them up into something new and beautiful. Plus, you can write off research traveling!

You Asked for It

As promised, I went through the comments of the two posts where we asked what you’d like to see as future topics. I’ve done my best to collate the suggestions and put them into a quasi-order. What I didn’t include were the calls for changes to the website or requests (and suggestions on how to do it) to take past posts and turn them into books. With regard to the former, tweaks to the site will be made — sometime. You have to remember, we’re a bunch of writers and that means — shiny! Where the book is concerned, that’s probably not going to happen. There are simply too many factors that would have to be dealt with, factors that take time and would take us away from writing. I know I speak for all of us that we wouldn’t want to just pluck posts from the blog, throw them into a book and publish them without taking time to research them and update the information they contain. Then, even if we had someone do the editing, we would still have to look at the posts before and after and, well, that takes time away from writing. That’s not to say moving forward a book might not happen with new material but we also aren’t promising that either.

Anyway, here’s the list of topics I culled from the comments. If I missed anything, or if you’ve thought of something else you’d like us to cover, list it in the comments below. I’ll collect the information over the weekend, add it to the list we already have. Once I have, the bloggers here will pick and choose what they want to cover individually and in groups.

This is, by the way, the last time we will be soliciting topics on a scale like this for at least six months. We really do appreciate your input. It helps us figure out what you want to see.

Here goes. (Some of these are lifted straight from the comments of the previous posts):

  • How To ready a manuscript for uploading, including font usage & sizes, formatting, setting up picture and illustrations, converting from Word or Wordperfect or TXT into a suitable carrier for Kindle, etc.
    • Exercises. For example, what are the industry standard layouts one finds in the average paperback?
  • Blurb workshops
    • Powerful blurbs, with an emphasis on what makes a blurb -work- the best. When I don’t like a book from the blurb, -why- didn’t I like it? Function before form!
  • Hooks
  • Marketing
  • Writing prompts
  • Queries
  • managing/planning a series (is it better to write out the entire series, in essence building up a backlog, and then publish each volume individually on a regular schedule? or perhaps release them in pairs or other multiples? or to forego the entire idea of a backlog and publish the whole series en masse? or to dial that back a bit publish each story as it gets finished, whenever that happens to be?)
  • Characters
    • Character descriptions
    • introducing characters, either main or supporting,
    • Villains (how to craft a good one without being over the top cliche)
  • Opening scenes,
  • closing scenes
  • describing environments.
  • Show, don’t tell
    • Show don’t tell vs infodumps
  • How does a new writer, unpublished, and not really sure if what she’s written is “any good” enter into an established writers’ community, get feedback, start to feel real?
  • “How to keep your short stories short” about editing for length and narrative focus…
  • Cover clinics
  • “how to handle critiques
    • Finding crit groups
  • How to prepare a COMIC BOOK for publication.
  • What are your experiences interfacing with Overdrive’s “for publishers” interface? What works? What doesn’t?

Don’t forget. If there’s a topic you would like us to consider covering and it’s not listed above, leave it in the comments below.

Another one down

By which I mean another evening mostly vanished in unwinding after work with nothing productive done. I’ve been on a kind of informal social media vacation for a while now, and don’t see that changing for a while yet. It’s… nice.

See, I’m realizing more and more that my tolerance for stupid is fast approaching negative levels. I really do not suffer fools gladly, but being about as conflict-averse as you can get and still be breathing, my usual method of dealing with them is to get the heck out. The absence of migraine-inducing levels of idiocy draping across my feeds is good for me.

Unfortunately, my definition of idiocy doesn’t match with the rest of the world, so if I was allowed to be the arbiter of too stupid to live, global population would be reduced by something like 90%. I’m aware this is not a good thing, so I avoid those impulses.

This does give me something of a handicap when it comes to writing. I can’t write dumb. I just can’t. Ignorant, yes, even willfully ignorant. Plain stupid, not so much. It’s something I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t work for me. Sadly, this also means that when someone else writes stupid characters – whether they meant it that way or not – I get irritated with the characters and the books.

Seriously, being a bear of excess brain is as much if not more of a handicap sometimes than being a bear of very little brain. The bear of very little brain is at least cute and friendly where I’m rather more prickly with a tendency to weird people out.

Anyway. It’s a lot like being almost good enough a musician to play in professional ensembles. What you learn to get there means that you have a much harder time enjoying amateur performances because you can hear all the things that aren’t right. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that artists have similar issues because they can see where less skilled artists didn’t quite get what they were trying for where someone like me who just likes the pretty things wouldn’t notice or care.

And of course when you know enough about writing crappy storytelling starts to bother you (we won’t go into the movies where I’ve sat there going “please don’t have this thing happen: it’s far too cliché. Please don’t do it.” Of course they do the thing every time). And when you have a brain and you’re willing to use it (the latter isn’t a given – in fact in my experience it’s a whole lot more rare than having the ability to use one’s brain in an intelligent fashion) it gets really, painfully obvious when you read the results of an author who isn’t using whatever reasoning abilities he or she was given and has inflicted a stupid plot on readers (most of the authors I’ve encountered do have the ability to avoid gross stupidity. They choose not to for whatever the reason). Actual stupid people are… well… not at all like the kind of stupid that usually shows up in characters.

With of course some brilliant exceptions, many of whom came from the pen, typewriter, and computer of Sir Pterry – who, frankly, was one of the greatest observers of character in centuries.

For those who are wondering, this is what happens when I start stream of consciousness-ish writing. Things meander. What started with “oh, yeah it’s nice I’m not subjecting myself to oodles of social media dumb” turns into discussing the portrayal of stupid people ahem characters in fiction.

Those who’ve met me face to face will know my actual conversations do this too. I have a conversational topic deficit disorder. Enjoy the ride with its crazy detours, and I shall return after what’s likely to be another week without migraine-inducing idiots on social media.

The Peculiar Structure Of Police Procedurals

So Police procedurals are weird ducks.  The shows they have most in common with are things like CSI, but they are… different.

First of all, what you’re aiming for with a police procedural is “realism.”  Please remember that realism isn’t really real.  What I mean is, I’ve known enough policemen to know some amount of their job is “just a job.”

They go to work, they do what they have to do, they patiently gather clues, they file paper.  In a big department, they might be working on three or four cases at once.  I’m not saying they don’t care about catching murderers or thieves.  I’m saying that the best ones do, but it’s still a job.  You don’t put your entire life on hold to solve a crime, and it’s not existentially important to you.  Let me rephrase that: no more than a good writer puts her life on hold to finish a book, and no more than that is existentially important to her.  There are people insanely dedicated to their jobs, but still not like in the books.

Police procedurals make policemen into heroes, (and I don’t mean real policemen aren’t heroic, I mean, heroes like in comic books) and that means the structure and the required beats are much like a super hero story, melded with a mystery.

-often starts with trauma in childhood (or early case) that makes the policeman wounded and vulnerable.

-scenes at the station are interspersed with scenes at home, and none of them has a happy marriage, ever.  The atmosphere is “gritty” and pseudo realistic.

-Immediately after the childhood trauma, dream, whatever, you will have the body found.  Bodies are more realistic than in cozies, less so than in “For the gore” type of brutalistic mysteries.

After this there’s often a chapter that shows this person’s position in the force is precarious, either because of sex or past mistakes, or just because superior doesn’t like him.

Morgue scene.

Inquest scene.

There might or might not be interrogating suspects in between.

There will also be scenes of people bringing information to the detective: forensics, fingerprints, etc.

Because otherwise it would all be in the office and static, procedurals often have the lead investigator actually go out and question people OR work another case at the same time one that for some reason gets him in physical fights. This is not exactly believable, but it is within the universe of the mystery.

The breakthrough will come, as in private investigators’ mysteries through the investigator putting the info together in a new way and seeing the path to the solution.

If there is a love affair with a fellow law officer, it will often end in the woman (if there’s one) being jeopardy.

Oh, and where other mysteries have one other murder along the way, to clarify clues/solution, police procedurals often have two or three.

Most of the ones I read are British.  The latest one which is pretty good, starts with the victim, instead, because he’s a shady character, and takes us through his preparing blackmail before cutting to his being found.  It’s also told multiple person, so there is no one “detective.”  Works very well, actually.

Next week I’ll move on to Fantasy, unless you have questions I need to answer.

In the meantime, if you’re going to write police procedurals and have never been an officer or in a related profession: research.  People who read these by preference are PICKY.  (I’m not one of them.  I read them as well as most other things.)  Find out how the police is organized in that particular city and state. If you can get a ride along.

And do not, under any circumstances, call your police department and ask where to hide the body.  I knew someone who did.

B&N for the loss

If you want to see what a sinking corporate ship looks like, you have to look no further than Barnes & Noble. Unlike the Titanic, there is no band playing on the deck as the ship sinks. Instead, the call for “business as usual — in the 1990’s” has gone out. B&N plans to steam backward into obscurity.

The downward trend was confirmed earlier this month when B&N announced its quarterly revenue declined — yet again — 6.6% with a decline on the Nook side of 28.1%. I gave up counting how many quarters in a row the bookseller posted a decline long ago. Between the revolving door in the boardroom and the revolving door in the CFO’s office, the company faces an uphill battle I’m pretty sure it will lose without a major overhaul of the business and the operating plan. But that isn’t what we see coming from the ivory tower. In fact, far from it.

We got our first indication of that in the conference call between Demos Parneros, B&N’s CFO, and their shareholders. In a word salad address that said nothing new, Parneros said this:

As we look to reinvent our customer value proposition and growth sales, we’re focused on a number of initiatives to increase the value customers derive from shopping at Barnes & Noble. Our value proposition is comprised of membership, convenience, digital offerings and most importantly our stores where customers come to browse, discover, and interact with 26,000 knowledgeable booksellers.

Pricing is a key consideration and over the past few months, we’ve launched a number of price tests tied to our membership program to see which authors resonate best with customers and increase the overall value of the program. Our goals are to increase enrollment, conversion and visit frequency.

Beyond pricing, we’re also focused on growing sales by improving the overall shopping, browsing and discovery experience for better visual merchandizing and signage as well as personalized recommendations. This includes testing changes to existing store layouts and remerchandising certain businesses. We believe there are significant opportunities to manage our inventory better, increasing trends and reduce unproductive merchandize.

As part of our efforts to better understand customers and develop a robust data analytics program, we’ve recently installed customer counters in all our stores and reintroduced mystery shops. We plan to enhance customer engagement and personalization through improved customer insights. And recently we’ve established an analytics team building the foundation for better analytic rigor.

Stores are an integral component of our value proposition and recently we made a few critical hires to oversee our store growth initiatives. Carl Hauch has joined as Vice President of Stores and will oversee the entire retail store organization and profitable growth of the business. Jim Lampassi has also joined the leadership team as Vice President of Real Estate Development and is responsible for developing and executing our real estate strategy. I’m excited to have Carl and Jim join our team.

In addition to the two new test stores we have in the pipeline, we are reviewing our entire portfolio in identifying opportunities to open new stores in new markets as well as opportunities to relocate stores as their leases expire instead of simply vacating markets. Our goal is to position the company for net store expansion.

As noted by The Digital Reader, they are going to sell more stuff. Riiiiight.

But it gets better. In a move that shows just how bad things are for the bookseller, Len Riggio, interim (or should we say perennial) CEO, “assured shareholders that B&N is no longer in the tech business. While the Nook e-reader and e-books will remain a part of the company’s offerings to customers, bricks and mortar stores will be its focus.” He went on to say they only got into the digital market because they felt they had to because of Amazon and Google. In other words, they didn’t have the infrastructure for it, they didn’t spend the money necessary to develop it and, let’s not forget, they colluded with publishers to fix the prices for e-books in an attempt to harm Amazon. But they learned nothing in the process. Instead of making their website more user friendly, instead of working to lower the price of e-books to a level that their customers would buy more product.

So what does this mean for Nook customers? No one knows for sure, but I wouldn’t be buying a new Nook anytime soon. It’s possible another company, perhaps Kobo, would buy the Nook end of the business. Or its possible BN will backtrack yet again. Who the heck knows? All I know for sure is this is the way to keep customers is not to sell them tech and then quit supporting it. What they need to do is look at what the true underlying cause of the company’s decline is. I suggest they start with their CEO. Under Riggio’s leadership, both as CEO and as head of the board, “stock price dropped from over $17 a share (when Riggio sold stock in 2014) to $7.30 a share today”

But that’s not the only idiocy B&N has done of late. I started seeing posts a month or so ago about how it had amended its Terms of Service for those indie authors and small presses using its Nook Press platform. That was done with little to no fanfare. What happened, however, is almost immediately BN started purging erotica titles from its catalog. It sent emails to authors, telling them their accounts had been frozen or, in some cases, deleted. Titles were no longer for sale. All I could think of was when Kobo did that some years ago, especially when I read how non-erotica titles were included in the purge. Note, this only applied to those using the Nook Press platform. Traditionally published books weren’t included. So not only was the bookseller angering authors but it was angering its customers by refusing to apply standards equally across the board. Keep the higher priced books from the side of the industry they want to keep and toss out those evil riff-raff authors who dare go direct to the public, bypassing the gatekeepers.

There is a lot to be concerned about with the new Terms of Service.

Please be advised that submitting or posting any of the following content in your eBook file, cover image or product data may, in the exercise of Barnes & Noble’s sole and unfettered discretion, result in the removal of said content and/or termination of your account. Please be advised that the content listed represent examples only and the following list of content is non-exhaustive. Such content includes but is not limited to: 
 

  • Obscene or Pornographic material: This may include content that graphically portrays sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.
  • Libellous Material: False defamatory statements that intentionally harm or have the potential to harm an individual or a third party.
  • Infringing Material: Any content to which you do not own the copyright or otherwise control the right to distribute. Additionally, content that may violate any other intellectual property rights, such as trademark and trade dress, and/or content that may infringe upon a party’s proprietary rights, such as the right of privacy or the right of publicity
  • Illegal Content or Other Offensive Material: As we may determine in our sole discretion, content that is illegal, content that violates the laws of any jurisdiction, whether or not we sell in such jurisdiction, or other content we deem offensive in the exercise of our sole discretion including but not limited to works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.
  • Material Violating Privacy: Any content that violates an individual’s privacy.
  • Advertisements: Content contained within your eBook or other content that primarily seeks to sell a product other than the eBook or content itself.

Product Data 

As stated above, the information that describes your eBook (Product Data) is also subject to our Content Policy. Please note that in addition to the points listed above, Barnes & Noble prohibits the following data points in your Product Data:

  • Hyperlinks of any kind, including email addresses.
  • Request for action (i.e.: “If you like this book, please write me a review.”).
  • Advertisements or promotional material (including author events, seminars etc.).
  • Contact information for the author or publisher.

First, the language is vague and gives total control to BN to decide what is or is not in violation of the ToS. There is no appeals process listed. Now, there bight be elsewhere in all their documentation but it is not listed where it should be. Worse, there are no definitions for what the important terms mean. So it is totally subjective and that means it can and probably will be applied differently depending on who reviews a title.

But it gets better. Note the language on “offensive material”. It can determine content violates the law of other jurisdictions, even those where it doesn’t sell products, and use that as an excuse to delete content. Under this clause, many mysteries, thrillers, and historical fiction could be excluded because it portrays things BN “can” determine is offensive. Welcome to the land of the perpetually butt hurt.

Authors, it gets worse. You can’t include your email address in your product data. You can’t urge readers to post a review at the back of your book. In other words, in your “from the author” or afterword, you can’t say “If you like this book, please consider leaving a review”. You can’t even put in contact information for you or for your publisher.

WTF?!?

Technically, this means if you have your logo and publisher name on your title page, you can’t have the PO Box listed as well. You can’t have it hyperlinked. In other words, they want to make it as difficult as possible for your readers to reach out to you. Now, they say this applies only to your “product data” but the earlier language of the ToS makes it possible for them to apply it to everything about your ebook and to change the terms without reasonable notice.

I’ve gone on too long already but I will admit that this is making me wonder if I should reconsider putting titles into BN. If they don’t want my business, either as an author or as a reader, why should I go out of my way to help them? That’s a question we each have to ask ourselves. B&N might not like our answers.

He who pays the piper…

…Calls the tune. It’s something people in our profession tend to forget… and not just our profession, of course. It’s understandably confusing if you’re a Big Five traditionally published author. Your publisher is (apparently) calling the tune. Without him or her your tootle-pipe went unheard. That was who your check came from. Pleasing them and your agent (who got you in the door with them) was life and breath to your working author.

It didn’t actually MATTER where the money for that check came from.

Or so many authors – and musicians, and actors, and NFL football players thought (and still do think). Their money comes from the publisher, the record label, the Hollywood financier or their team contract. Yes, they might make more if they’re popular – but actually making them popular is not their skill, or quality… it’s that proximal payer, the publisher or whatever who does that.

Or so they would have you believe.

But facts keep proving them wrong.

In actual practical terms these people are really little more than gatekeepers – increasingly – in our profession anyway, keeping gates where the walls have fallen around them – or are crumbling (rumor has it that B&N is circling the drain – one of the last few walls). Sometimes, yes, those gatekeepers can – and do – keep quality out, and, if it gets in, down. That is true – but it works to their and everyone’s long term detriment, something many gatekeeper fail to realize, believing the own myth. It doesn’t end well. Sometimes they can indeed give a sow’s ear a temporary lift…

But unless the public actually WANTS sow’s ear… they still eventually call the tune. And if the publisher, record label, Hollywood financier or team owner think differently, well, they either learn… or ride their industry into the ground – taking down a lot of pipers who didn’t realize that they had to please the public and that the ‘very important’ gatekeeper was really little more than a beneficiary of the piper’s skill and popularity. Often an overpaid and over-valued beneficiary, at that. The gatekeeper’s real job was to make sure that the people who paid the piper got EXACTLY the tunes they wanted. It wasn’t to please the gatekeeper, or educate the public, or support the piper’s ability protest whatever the piper wanted to protest about.

We’re in the entertainment industry, and our customers (and that’s not your publisher, or, in most cases, the people in their NYC bubble they live in, or that their camp-followers admire and aspire to, any more than NFL customers are the Hollywood elite and various left-wing celebrities loudly encouraging the players to protest at the US Anthem and Flag) are paying to be entertained. There is, I am sure, a small market where people find abuse entertaining… but it’s not much of a market, and doesn’t pay many people.

You can ‘educate’ people, or highlight whatever injustice or cause you like… but if the paying customer doesn’t like… he won’t remain your customer. You can please whichever political faction or social group you desire to… but if those aren’t your customers (or only a part of your customer group, the rest of whom dislike them) – it might help your ego or your psychology, but not your bank balance. We’ve seen this in sf, we’re likely to see this the NFL – it’s been about pleasing a section of the population, not even a major section – to the irritation of the bulk of the punters.

Audiences are often slow to build and/or require a special set of circumstances to develop. You can be lucky and in the right place at the right time… once. Doing so twice is less likely and, as many an author has found alienated readers don’t give you that second chance.

You may think you’re important, and what you say is of value and should be read. BUT you’re asking people to pay to read it. And they pay because they want to be entertained. Yes, I know, they should be far more noble and be eager to pay to be lectured about injustices and how bad they are…

But it just doesn’t seem to work that way.

Always remember who pays the piper.

Mens sana in corpore sano

You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death,
and deems length of days the least of Nature’s gifts
that can endure any kind of toil,
that knows neither wrath nor desire and thinks
the woes and hard labors of Hercules better than
the loves and banquets and downy cushions of Sardanapalus.
What I commend to you, you can give to yourself;
For assuredly, the only road to a life of peace is virtue.

-Juvenal, Satire X

After moving to Texas, I landed a wonderful job that allows me some time to write, minimal dress code, and sitting all day in air conditioning in Texas summers, and heating in Texas winter. Sounds wonderful, right?

Except that after many months of sitting all shift long, my knees (not great to start with) had degenerated to the point that by LibertyCon my cane became a full-time necessity. Which sucked. A lot. And as my knees got worse, so did my balance, which led to falling on the kitchen floor and months of physical therapy.

So Peter and I committed to something we’d been kicking around: weightlifting and strength coaching, at a Starting Strength gym.

Deadlifts really suck. Well, to be fair, they’re sucking far less as muscle memory is starting to sink in and figure out that this body part does this while that does that, and hips here and breathe there, and yeargh. Except that our starting strength coach is determined to keep adding weight as we get better (thereby driving the adaptation and muscle growth that makes us continue getting better), so deadlifts will continue to suck for the foreseeable future. yay.

On the other hand, the sheer amazement of being able to lift a fourty-five-pound barbell in an overhead press when just a few months before I was working really hard in physical therapy to be able to raise that arm higher than my shoulder… this is pretty cool. And my knees hurt less, and I’m not limping at all unless the weather changes rapidly!

The first couple weeks were a blur of “just take me out behind the barn and shoot me” feeling on the lifting days (much less when working a shift after lifting weights in the morning. Whose stupid idea was that? Oh. Mine. Carry on!) But since then, I’ve started to find that I’m sucking down less caffeine, and skipping the painkillers I needed before to make it through each day… My concentration is improved, as is my ability to squeeze extra tasks into the day. Peter’s starting to find that he’s not feeling as mentally exhausted in the evenings, and is able to get extra hours of writing time in! (His take on it is here: https://bayourenaissanceman.blogspot.com/2017/08/of-strength-training-disability-and.html)

There really is something to this “sound mind in a sound body” thing.

To those of you who can become or stay active, look at me as a warning, and stay strong and healthy! (Try to avoid falling on wet tile, too. No good comes of bodyslamming the earth!) What do you do to stay fit?

And if you want to read about a couple active youngsters on a colony world, and the trouble they get into when they discover ruins that neither the humans nor the local natives knew about, check out Alma Boykin’s Shikari!

Adventure, daring-do, and dogs! ..and homework. Lost cities, alien politics! …and an older sister who knows just what Rigi “ought” to wear. Best friends, awesome uncle, and alien allies! …and stupid bully at school. Shikari!

Excerpt Here: https://almatcboykin.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/shikhari-update/
Buy it here! http://amzn.to/2gZ69Pe

Guest Post: Selling myself in different venues

Everyone welcome fellow Indie Author Christopher Woods! He’s had a rough week, but as you’ll see, it was in a good cause. I am also disappointed I didn’t get to hang out with him and sell books, but there will be other times (We must chat about cons, soon). He’s been, as you’ll see, exploring non-traditional outlets for sales. Although I still say that selling yourself has a funny connotation, Chris! 

soulguardWhere can a person set up and successfully sell their books? This is a question a lot of self-published authors must ask. The answer is complicated. There are the Sci-Fi conventions which are the regular spots a self-published author will find fans of their work, provided they write Science Fiction or Fantasy. For those who write in other genres there are conventions for them as well, but I write Sci-Fi/Fantasy so that’s all I can speak about at the moment.

I’ve done a few different things over the last couple of years since publishing my first novel, Soulguard, in September of 2014. I set up in a Home Depot where I used to work, which sounds odd but I sold about fifteen books. I’ve done a couple of rallies at libraries with varied success. And I’ve done a few conventions, including HonorCon, LibertyCon, and Fanboy Expo. HonorCon had the best results in physical sales, thirty books.

The newest venue I decided to try was the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville, TN. I rented booth space there and offered to share the booth with local authors, including Cedar Sanderson, who wanted me to post about the results of using the fair as a venue for book selling. Unfortunately, Cedar had an accident on her way down to join me and was unable to participate. Thank God she and her First Reader were unharmed. I was a little disappointed that they couldn’t make it, as I was looking forward to meeting Sanford, and having a little time in the booth to talk to both of them. Something for another day, I suppose.

Now to the fair. I’m sure most of you have been to a fair at some point. It’s loud, it’s crowded, and it’s hard for an introvert to cope with honestly. But the Tennessee Valley Fair was a place where over a hundred thousand people go thru a ten day span. With that many people coming through, there would have to be some readers. There were. Over the ten days, I sold about fifty books, both hardback and paperback.

Most of us know that physical sales are just a small part of our reasons to set up in the conventions. We have cards, bookmarks, and gifts. All of these are ways we put our names in front of many people. Along with my fifty book sales, I gave out close to eight hundred bookmarks to interested parties, as well as five hundred business cards. Whether these pan out over the next few months is still to be discovered.

There were a few things I discovered as I sat in the booth and watched people. First the placement of my booth was not bad. The air conditioned building I was set up in has two places where the bathrooms are located. One end has the ladies downstairs and the gents upstairs, directly above. The other end is just the opposite. Now, that made things inconvenient for my trips to the bathroom since my booth was right in front of the ladies room and I had to climb the stairs every time I had to go. But I realized about two days in that almost every woman who attends that Fair comes into the air conditioned building and uses that bathroom. Every man who accompanies them waits just outside and right in front of my booth. So most of the folks who attend would see my banner. This generated some of the sales I made.

You have to learn to read which people to talk to, as well. Some are just looking as they pass and all of them have been dodging carnival barkers throughout the whole event. If you speak up, many will run away in fear of being harangued into buying something. You have to watch for that spark of interest, sometimes hard to catch. This means you have to watch the crowd instead of playing with your tablet or phone. Most Cons are full of people who enjoy the genre you are working in but this place had people from every walk of life. After a while, you begin seeing the same responses from people, that stop and double take when they see books. Those are readers, perhaps not readers of your genre, but readers. Those are the people you can talk to.

Surprisingly, the question, “Did you write these?” came from almost all of them. The more I thought about it, I realized this was another difference from a Con. Authors set up at Cons to sell their books. People at the Fair set up to sell anything. Many of the folks who wouldn’t have bought the books only did so after learning that I wrote the books. But I’m happy to sell my books to anyone willing to buy them.

The biggest detriment to my days at the Tennessee Valley Fair was the noise. There was a group who rented thirteen booths and set up a laser tag arena. Unfortunately, it was just through the curtain behind me. My eye was twitching by the time I had done ten days with that. The long hours wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much if not for that.

This is not really something you want to do alone. The hours alone are rough and if you plan to do something like this, you want it to be local. Ten days of hotel rooms alone would be more than a person could afford. My family lives close to Knoxville so it made things much cheaper when I got to stay with them.

Ideally, there would be several authors who would work shifts with all the participants’ books out to be seen and bought by the crowds. At the end of it the tally could be made and the money dispersed to the authors. It would take some time to establish something like that as a yearly thing but I think it could be made to work.

As for me, I’m exhausted, more mentally than physically. Even with the noise, my opinion is that the trip was a success. Sure, it could have been better, but it could have been much worse. Now I’m going to go lay some tile and give my mind a rest while working my back. In a day or so I can get back to the keyboard to write more on the next novel.

Where’s Kilted Dave?

Oh no, the kilted one is missing. Have you seen him? His children are running free — and possibly wearing only hats — with maniacal little grins on their adorable faces. A search party has been formed but we aren’t sure where to start.

Next. . . .

(Actually, Kilted Dave is up to his ears with littles and their needs right now. So, I leave it to you guys to figure out where he’s run off to — if he left willingly — and how to get him back to the fold. The floor is now yours.)

Who Stole My Time?

As I write (as usual, the evening before the post goes live) it’s approaching the end of my 50th birthday, leaving me wondering where the hell the time went, and who stole it.

Inside, I’m definitely not getting old, despite the odd bit of silver in my hair and the aches and pains that come with the combination of too much me, not enough exercise (I’m trying to improve that), and my issues with resisting the pleas of delicious bad-for-me food sitting right there and crying out “Eat me! I’m wonderful! You’ll love it!”. Metaphorically, anyway. I’m not sure I could handle food that actually talked to me.

Seriously, my mental image is stuck somewhere in the mid-20s to mid-30s, with excursions back to late teens when I have an angsty fit (Yes, I was an angsty teen. It’s a good thing I grew up). Maturity? Oh, hell no.

Besides, there’s no way I’ve lived all those 50 years. There just isn’t. Everything has kind of blurred together and there’s suddenly this marker saying “thou art old” or something and I’m saying “Wait, whoa. Where did that come from and why is it talking to me?”

Actually, on second thoughts, I think I know where it’s got to. It’s taken off with my sanity and my brain, and they’re all having a threesome on a tropical island somewhere, drinking fancy drinks with umbrellas in them, and generally having a whole lot of fun. And they don’t even send post cards.

I have to wonder if getting old feels the same way for everyone, like someone’s played a dirty trick on you and slipped you a bunch of extra years you don’t feel like you really lived.