With the supposed arrival of spring, my busy time starts. I attend a lot of outdoor festivals to sell books. These can be enjoyable events when the weather cooperates. However, this year, spring has been slow in coming. The temperatures have been cool and rain has soaked to ground. Not the optimum conditions for an outdoor festival.

gaithersburg-book-festival-gaithersburg-mdI attended the Gaithersburg Book Festival this past Saturday. It was my first time there so I didn’t have any past experiences to draw upon for how I would do. I had heard that the festival had very good crowds and I could see that they had extensive and well-known roster of speakers. I went with great hopes.

The day before the festival was bright and sunny and I crossed my fingers that weather forecasters would be wrong.

They weren’t.

It rained all day during the festival. At least it wasn’t a heavy rain, but it was still rain, which keeps people inside side. On top of that, it was cool all day. I found myself shivering most of the day.

I was disappointed with the turnout, although I expected it when I saw the rain. I did manage to sell a decent number of books. This gives me hope enough to return next year and hope for good weather. If so, I should do a brisk business.

I have found that outdoor festivals are great places to sell books.

  • They get a lot of traffic. I attend not only book festivals, but craft festivals and Christmas bazaars, too.
  • People like to get an autographed book as a gift for friends and family.
  • Since I’m not a household name (like J. K. Rowling and Stephen King), my books tend to stand out as unique to festival visitors.
  • I’m independently published so I can offer great sales at festivals, which helps increase my sales. I experimented with different offers over the years and have settled on one that works best for me.
  • I always see an uptick in online sales and e-book sales after a festival. I understand the e-books, but I’ve never understood why someone who can get my autographed books at a great price at a festival, pass on that, to go home and buy an unsigned book at a higher price. I’m glad they do, though.

I’m always on the lookout for how to make my booths more attractive to pull in more passersby. Then once I get them to stop, I’ve got to find a way to get them looking at my books and interacting with me.

  • I have definitely seen big banners catch people’s attention. They stop walking to read the banners and look at the pictures. That gives me a chance to step outside my booth and speak with them.
  • I have expanded the types of books that I offer. For years, I sold only history and historical fiction. I have started offering a historical fantasy novel and I will be offering a young adult novel later this year. This should increase my potential pool of buyers.
  • I keep experimenting with counter displays. I am going to offer a larger book display rack that should hopefully attract more attention.

I know authors are always looking to do book signings, and they can be great. For independent authors, you can make more money and sell more books if you make the most of festivals. Don’t let the rain discourage you.

 

I love freelance writing. It’s a great job. It may not be for everyone, but it certainly suits my personality.  It’s not a perfect job, though. I doubt if there ever is one.

One of the negatives of the job is that there’s no vacation or sick time that you accrue.

Vacations usually aren’t a big problem. I know they are coming far enough ahead of time so I can make sure any deadlines that fall during my vacation are taken care of ahead of time. I can also spread the extra work out so that I don’t have any days where I’m trying to do double my usual work.

The same can’t be said for sick time. There’s no warning for that as I discovered last week. A kidney stone had me in near-constant pain for three days. I couldn’t manage to focus on much of anything except not yelling.

During the short bouts of time where the pain faded, I did the essential things that had to be done. Everything else, I pushed off to a later time.

I made it through the sick time, but now that I’m back to myself, I got to catch up on all of the work that has piled up. It surprising how quickly it does stack up.

That’s when the flexibility that I love about freelancing comes in handy. I spent Monday catching up on the work that I pushed off while I was sick and Tuesday catching up my Monday work as well as my Tuesday work.

At the end of the day, I took a deep breath when I had finally caught up with my work.

So while freelancing has its drawbacks at times (and it has more than the one I mentioned here), the advantages give you some ways to deal with them that you might not have otherwise.

 

October Mourning Cover

The current cover for October Mourning

BookCoverPreview

The new cover for October Mourning

 

 

 

 

 

When I first started independently publishing, I had my books printed by a traditional book printer. They did good work, but it was a big upfront cost for 1,000 copies at a time. It also gave me headaches when I tried to decide whether to do additional printings.

These early books were listed on Amazon, but under their Advantage Program. You couldn’t tell the difference on the Amazon page, but my net profit was far less than it is under the Createspace Program, which I’ve used to print my books for the past few years.

As I’ve been selling out of the traditionally printed books, I’ve been switching them over to Createspace. It hasn’t been a problem until now.

October Mourning is ready to be switched over, but unlike the other traditionally printed books, I don’t have a cover to use for the new printing. I tried to scan one of the books, but it’s not working. Each scan I try was some problem with it.

So I decided to do a new cover.

That’s not too big an issue because I was never really thrilled by the old cover. However, I decided I didn’t want to use a cover designer because the book is now 10 years old. I wasn’t sure that I could make back the cost of the cover.

So I worked up a cover. Actually, I came up with two, but this is the one that I decided I liked more. How do you like it compared to the current cover? Do I nail it or do I need to go back to the drawing board?

I’m really curious to see if the new cover will breathe some new life into the book. If it does, I have a few older books that I may recover.

So my need to create a new cover for one book has turned into a marketing experiment that can help multiple books.

C03aaClay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy is out and starting to show up on the shelves of stores. You can also find it at online retailers, most notably Amazon.com.

I took some copies over the Chuck Caldwell (the subject of the biography) last week. He started to get choked up when he saw the finished product. I think he thought that he would never see the final book.

I have to say that I wondered at times myself. It was mainly early on in the process when I was trying to bring together all of the various times and stories from Chuck’s life. You would think that with a biography that would be easy to do. You follow the timeline of his life.

The pieces weren’t working together as I wrote them. I knew that they had to because Chuck lived them. So I went back to the source time and again, digging for more details. I used my early drafts to find the gaps in his story and talked to him about those times, looking for stories that even if they weren’t part of a big event were interesting and showed more of the type of person Chuck is.

It took a year and a half (making it the second-longest time it’s taken me to write a book), but all the rough spots got smoothed out and the final book tells a great story. I think it will topple Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town as my favorite non-fiction book that I’ve written.

I like both books for the same reason. I have living people who I could interview. Doing this, I was able to get a lot of details that wouldn’t show up in other places. I know because I scoured historical societies, newspapers, etc. looking for information on both topics. Still, there are plenty of things in both books that you won’t find anywhere else except those books and the memories of the people who I interviewed. Those details give the books a richness of setting the time and place or the story or portraying the people involved.

While I work hard on all of my books, I think I may have worked even harder on Clay Soldiers because I knew that I was telling the story of Chuck’s life. It was going to be the summary of his life and his one chance to see it as a book. I didn’t want him to be disappointed.

He wasn’t.Scan1z (2)z

I think what I like best about the book was that I was able to bring it full circle. It begins with him as a 14-year-old boy attending the 75th anniversary reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg where he met and had his picture taken with Civil War veterans. The book ends with the roles reversed. He is now the aged veteran as the 75th anniversary of World War II begins. The youths will be coming to him now to hear about his experiences and have their picture taken with him.

If you missed my preview of the first chapter that I published a while back, you can catch them in this series of blog posts.

Clay Soldiers

For a writer, this is an interesting story to follow and see what develops. It could change the way writers write or totally flop. 

A company has started data mining the information that is collected from e-book use. The company, called Jellybooks, gives readers free e-books. The readers then click on the link in the book so that all kinds of reading data gets sent to the company.

Some of the questions that the New York Times suggests can be answered by studying the data include “Do most people devour it in a single sitting, or do half of readers give up after Chapter 2? Are women over 50 more likely to finish the book than young men? Which passages do they highlight, and which do they skip?”

There seems to be so many ways it could be sliced and diced that it could lead to having so much information that you become paralyzed in your writing. You want to write to please all your potential readers, but you realize that something is always going to turn off one group or another.

In the past, I’ve had books rejected by publishers who make decisions by committee. One person wants this change made. Another person wants another change made. You make the changes to try and please them, but then there’s someone who nixes the whole thing, although everyone else was fine with it.

That’s what I envision happening with books if author’s rely too much on data like this.

Books written by committee will lack a single vision and a sense of cohesion. Instead of a race horse, you wind up with a camel.

Another problem that I see with this is that it studies reading habits of e-book readers. This may be anecdotal, but my encounters with readers tell me that many physical book readers have a different reading style than e-book readers. One example I can think of is that an e-book reader may read on their smartphones using an e-reader app while waiting in line. Physical book readers may read for longer times because they aren’t disturbed by the backlighting on many e-readers.

So far, the technology is still new. The company has studied 200 books for seven publishers. Each book gathers data from 200 to 600 readers.

Here is some of what was found:

  • Less than half of the books tested are finished by a majority of readers.
  • Most readers give up early on. Women seem to give a book 50 to 100 pages before deciding whether to give up or not. Men will only read 30 to 50 pages before making the decision.
  • Only 5 percent of the tested books were completed by 75 percent of the readers.
  • 60 percent of books were finished by 25 to 50 percent of readers.
  • Business books have a low completion rate.

In the end, I think what will still turn out to be the best course of action is to write the best book that you can. Make it a story that you believe in and love. Then go find the readers with whom it resonates.

new-amazon-kindleI was out enjoying the beautiful weather yesterday afternoon when I dropped my Kindle. It had a cover so it didn’t shatter the screen. That was the good news. However, I couldn’t get the text-to-speech function to work anymore. I tried a variety of things, but I’m pretty sure the audio is fried.

I’m pretty disappointed about it. I use the text-to-speech to read books to me when I’m bicycling, walking, and working out. It’s a nice way to multi-task. I can be active and still keep up with the pile of books that I want to read.

Now I’ve got to get a new Kindle and they no longer make my Kindle Keyboard. It was the perfect Kindle for me.

None of the current Kindle e-readers have a text-to-speech function. I’m going to have to switch to a Kindle Fire. I like them, but then they don’t work so well outdoors and I do like reading on the beach or in the park.

I spent the morning pricing Kindle Fires and I was surprised to find that many of them are cheaper than the Kindles. Why does a devoted e-reader, i.e. the Kindle, cost more than something that pretty much a table, i.e. the Kindle Fire?

Anybody have any thoughts on their preferences? I could use some input.

CanawlersThis week, I had an enthusiastic reader insisting that my Canawlers novels should be turned into a movie. She has even gone so far as to contact someone she knows with Disney movies about the possibility. I haven’t heard anything back about that, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

It’s not the first time that someone has wanted to see Canawlers as a movie, but it’s the first time that someone has taken action toward that goal. That includes me!

In fact, when she asked me about it, I said that I really had no clue how to go about. I said that I would keep writing my books and hope that somehow they got discovered. Well, she even went and found a link that suggested things that I could do to get my books optioned.

What I gleaned from the article is that I need to pitch the book to producers and the most likely ones who would be interested would probably be independent movie producers as opposed to the big-name Hollywood one. The article recommended using The Hollywood Creative Directory or Writer’s Market to find some.

I couldn’t find movie producers in my copy of the 2015 Writer’s Market, but I did find another book by the same publisher called Pitching Hollywood that looks promising. I also found two books on Amazon that look like they have plenty of information. They are Hollywood Producers Directory and Hollywood Screenwriting Directory.

The article recommended making a synopsis of the book that’s no more than four pages long. It also said to register it with the Writer’s Guild of America to protect the concept. I don’t think this is necessary if the book is already written because the book itself is already protected by a copyright, which would protect my movie concept.o&d_0001

The process of pitching to producers is just like pitching to publishers and agents. The key is finding producers who are interested in the genre that the book is in. For instance, science fiction producers wouldn’t be interested in historical fiction.

So I guess I’ll start looking for potential producers and see what happens. Wow, since there are four books in the series, just imagine all four of them becoming movies! I wonder who would play David and Alice?

Here’s the link to the article I was sent if you want to read it.

As my income from ebooks continues growing, I find myself paying more and more attention to the trends in the market. My income is not at the level where I think it could be so I can see a large market that I’m not fully going after yet.

I know some readers don’t enjoy reading ebooks, but the market for them is still going strong. Sometimes that can be hard to tell from the reports that you read. Depending on the source of ebook data, it can be very skewed.

  • Some studies only look at ebooks with an ISBN number: More and more e-books are being published without one, though, because it’s not needed. My physical books need one to make it easy for bookstores to use. My Kindle ebooks get an Amazon code for tracking through their system so I don’t need an ISBN, which saves me money.
  • Some studies include all ebooks, including free copies: Free copies will make your sales numbers increase, but they aren’t really sales in my mind. The author isn’t getting anything out of the transaction. Ebook sellers will separate free and paid bestsellers because a book has more value when a reader
  • Paid sales do include reduced-price ebooks: Selling a book at a reduced price will certainly bump up your sales and it can be argued that if you run a lower-price offer for a book that is normally sold at a higher price, the results will be somewhat skewed when comparing that title to other ones. However, the same is true for physical books that are sold at a discount in bookstores.

Another author introduced me to Authorearnings.com. It shows the most-complete picture I’ve seen of the market and breaks it out in ways that I understand.

The most-recent report that looks at the previous 23 months ending in February 2016 shows that indie-published ebooks account for nearly half of e-book paid sales while the ebooks from the big publishers has fallen off dramatically. This seems to dovetail with the news that Amazon gave the big publishers more control over the pricing of their titles.

From my experience, I’ve seen titles from my favorite big-name authors priced at $7.99 or higher. I am reluctant to pay that much for an ebook unless I really, really want it. This doesn’t happen much because I’ve got something like 40 ebooks on my reader that I haven’t read yet. Instead of buying that high-priced book, I put it on my wish list and check to see if it goes on sales. Meanwhile, I’ll read my other unread books. It’s a pile that never seems to shrink because I do buy books by new authors who have priced their books very competitively.

Ebooks should be priced lower than paperbacks since there are no physical costs to producing them. It’s not devaluing the product, it’s just pricing it reasonably. You wouldn’t expect to pay hardback prices for a paperback book. That’s because the production costs of a hardback are more than a paperback. The same thing holds true for ebooks vs. paperbacks or hardbacks.

This difference in pricing strategies between indie publishers and traditional publishers can be seen in this chart.

gross-sales-trend-20160110

From Authorearnings.com

Indie books sell for less and so they generate fewer overall dollars (45% of unit sales but only 25% of dollars). That fine because ebooks are very profitable for an indie author.

Selling a $25 hardback earns the author around $3.25 (15%) and selling an $8 paperback earns the author around 80 cents (10%).

An ebook priced at $8 will earn the indie author about $5.40 (68%). A traditionally published author will be lucky to earn $3.20 (40%) from the sale.

An indie author selling a $5 ebook will make around $3.40 (68%). That means indie authors can sell their books at a lower price and earn more per copy than traditionally published authors get from selling higher-priced ebook or even hardback books. In addition, the lower price of an indie ebook helps it sell more copies.

The reader gets a value-priced ebook and the author gets a higher royalty. There’s nothing wrong with that unless you’re a traditional publisher.

 

 

Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy comes out next month. It is a biography about WWII veteran Charles Caldwell. It’s the first time that I’ve written a biography and it was a much-different experience than I expected. Here are some of the things that I learned.

Scan1z (2)zIt’s always better to have someone to talk to. Since I write history articles and books, a lot of times, I can’t speak to someone who actually lived through what I’m writing about like I could when I was a newspaper reporter. Having someone around that I can interview is invaluable. It allows me to personalize the story. I was able to include lots of anecdotal stories to major events like the Battle of Guadalcanal and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg that add more depth to the story and present a view that you won’t read elsewhere.

Research, research, research. Even though I was able to interview Chuck Caldwell for hours at a time over the course of a year and a half, I would still need to go home and research what we had talked about. His memory is still sharp and he had plenty of letters and diaries to supplement, but there were still gaps that I needed to fill in at times or additional information that I found on a subject that I could ask him about. I usually began each of our interview sessions with a list of questions that had come up in my research. After we went through those, we would start talking about other subjects.

Find something different. Each person has an individual story and you can’t forget that. You need to capture that in a biography. What is it about the story that that first attracted you to it? In Chuck’s case, it was that he had an autograph book filled with the autographs of Civil War veterans he had met at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and pictures of himself with those veterans. He is also a WWII vet and the 75th anniversary of America’s involvement in that war begins this year. It struck me that young kids would be approaching him this year like he approached Civil War vets in 1938. Things had come full circle. C03aa

Never forget it’s about a person. It’s a biography, which means that it needs to tell the story of a person. You can’t get swept up in the events that the person was part of and forget to tell your subject’s story. You have to put yourself in that person’s shoes and try to envision things through their eyes. Sometimes that means you write a much narrower view of major events. However, I have found that although events may be interesting, readers need to connect with people. Writing a biography means you have your main character already. Just tell his or her story.

The first draft is not final. Even after I had the first draft written, Chuck would read sections that would trigger other memories. He would go digging for a picture or letter and tell me a new story that I would then need to weave into the draft. I didn’t mind this. It was why I had given him the draft. Even as a writer, sometimes, I just need to see something on paper to realize that it needs more or less or the written differently. Even while my beta readers were reading what I thought was my publishable copy, I was also reading it and rewording things or researching something to add more detail to it.

Clay SoldiersSometimes I never thought it all would come together. I wrote chapters out of order, which was highly unusual for me. I would look at them and think, “How am I going to tie this together in a way that makes sense?” Then I realized, it already tied together in a way that made sense. It was the story of a man’s life. All I needed to do was tell that story as best I could.

That’s what I’ve done. I probably even pushed myself harder to do a good job with this because Chuck got more excited about having his life written down for his family as time went on. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I hope that I haven’t.

He talked with Civil War soldiers, fought against the Japanese in WWII, and chased mushroom clouds after atomic bomb explosions…

Caldwell 3

Chuck Caldwell in his contamination suit at the Nevada Test Site in 1957.

Chuck Caldwell was always fascinated by history, so much so that as a 14-year-old boy he traveled to Gettysburg, Pa., in 1938 to meet with Civil War veterans at the last, great Civil War Reunion. Besides the 75th anniversary reunion, he would go on to attend the 100th, 125th, and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Joining the Marines at the beginning of World War II, he went on to fight in some of the most-harrowing battles of the Pacific … Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Guam. He survived with two wounds, a Purple Heart, and malaria.

After the war, he worked for the Museum of Atomic Energy in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and spent summers at the Nevada Test Site collecting data at Ground Zero after atomic bomb tests, sometimes standing beneath mushroom clouds as they rose into the sky.

Though it all, Chuck has his art. He drew, painted, and sculpted miniature figures that have become sought after by collectors around the country.

img104

Chuck Caldwell’s artillery gun crew on Guadalcanal during WWII.

Clay Soldiers is the story of a man who became part of this of America and chronicled it through his art. It is the story of an ordinary man who has lived an extraordinary life.

Clay Soldiers is due out in late April, but you can pre-order your copy now at a reduced price of $15.00 and have an autographed copy shipped to you when it is released.

Clay Soldiers

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