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Waiting in the green room before the taping of the show.

So I had the chance to be interviewed on television this week along with Richard Fulton, who is my co-author on The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles & Deaths of U. S. Marines at Gettysburg. We taped an episode of PA Books, a cable show produced by PCN.

The show won’t air until October. I’m hoping it will expose a lot more people to the book and that we’ll also have the book in a few more venues by then. The network reaches 10 million people

Overall, I’d say the interview went well and so did Rick. It seemed like a nice back and forth between us and the interviewer. There were a few faux pas like when I reached down to take a sip of my water right as the camera started rolling. Apparently, they didn’t like that and started over. For my part, I made sure to leave the water alone for the next hour.

There were no commercial breaks either. Once the cameras started rolling, we talked for an hour about the book and our backgrounds.

Rick said there was someone sitting behind us who he could just barely see out of the corner of his eye. I couldn’t see the person at all, but I did see the host keep looking behind me. It made me want to turn around and see what was going on but I resisted the urge.

The questions weren’t hard and the host had obviously read the book and his copy had sticky notes popping out all over it that he referred to when he asked some questions. I only wished I had remembered certain parts of the book better. On the drive home, both Rick and I said that were certain things that we wished we had handled better.

I’m also curious how I look on screen since my wife didn’t tell me until after I got home that you shouldn’t wear a white shirt on television because it can cause lighting problems. Would have been nice to know beforehand, but no one said anything while we were there so I’m hoping it wasn’t a problem.

The experience is becoming a blur now. I only hoped I’m not too shocked by what I said and how I said it when I see the episode. I’ll post a link on Facebook and Twitter when the episode airs October 11. Until then, if you want to see if the cable network in your area carries PCN, here’s a link.

image_681x432_from_275,3664_to_2509,5082I bought The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars awhile back. It finally worked its way to the top of my “to read” pile. I wish I had read it sooner because I really liked it.

The main story involves the identification of a dismembered corpse. Once the body is identified as William Guldensuppe, which leads to two suspects, Augusta Knack, Guldensuppe’s lover, and Martin Thorn, Knack’s lover. However, it is much harder for the police to figure out which of the two suspects committed the murder and whether the other was a willing participant or a dupe.

While the pursuit of the murderer makes an interesting story in itself, the secondary story of how the newspapers played up the story to the point of actually becoming part of the story is just as interesting. Reporters planted evidence, interrogated witnesses, and enlisted their readers in the search for missing body parts.

This was the age of “yellow journalism” with the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer competing against each other to be number one.

The story flowed like a bestselling mystery and kept me interested throughout. I kept bouncing back and forth over which of the two suspects committed the murder.

Collins also does a great job of setting the scene. He puts you in the period with colorful descriptions of life in the city.

I found after reading the book that I was searching the Internet looking for the newspapers and books mentioned in the book.

img099I’ve been working on a biography of an interesting World War II veteran who is 94 years old. His name is Chuck Caldwell. It’s the first time I’ve written a biography on a living subject. I’ve been sitting down to interview him for a couple hours every week then taking the information he has given me to use as a jumping-off point to research deeper and track down others to interview.

Once I write a decent draft of a chapter, I’ve given it to Chuck to read to make sure the facts are correct and to see if it makes him think of any other stories. Usually, I leave the draft at the end of one of our interviews and pick it up the next time we meet.

The other week he actually asked me to stay while he read through the pages that I handed him. I thought that I would be bored waiting for him. I wasn’t. I gave me a different insight into what I was working writing.

I watched as Chuck read. At times, he would nod his head. Other times, he would actually chuckle. He would write a few notes in the margins here and there.

At one point, he stopped and said, “This is going to be great for my children to read.”

Suddenly, a lot of the doubts that I had been having about the process and whether I was doing Chuck’s story justice fell away. I knew that I was on the right track. Watching his reaction, I was invigorated. This was the first feedback that I was getting on the story so it meant a lot to me.

Now I am back at work on the next chapter, pulling in pieces from our various interviews to create a timeline that I will match to archival research and other interviews. I am also excited to see where this project takes me because so far, it has definitely taken me outside of my writing comfort zone.

I can’t wait to see how it ends.

The-Stranger-by-Harlan-CobenThe Stranger by Harlan Coben begins curiously enough with a stranger meeting Adam Price in a bar and relaying information that he seemingly shouldn’t know about Adam’s wife. The stranger tells Adam that his wife faked a pregnancy and miscarriage to keep him from leaving her. The stranger even offers Adam a way to verify the information. With that revelation, Adam’s happy life begins to unravel.

I was hooked on the story, which is not surprising since I am a big fan of Harlan Coben’s books. (I even read his YA series.) However, I realized too early some of the key plot elements. I’m not sure if that means I’m getting better at solving mysteries or Coben simply let too much slip too early.

While Adam’s encounter shakes his life apart, Heidi Dann’s encounter costs her her life. Her friend, who is a police officer, begins to investigate Heidi’s death and the investigation eventually leads her to Adam.

The story grows more complex with unknown players in the overall mystery, which leaves the reader wondering from time to time who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

I enjoyed the characters, but I felt some of them seemed too familiar as Coben characters. When the base mystery is solved (there’s more than one mystery that need to be solved), I felt it was so commonplace that it was a let down given all the heartaches and headaches that it had caused.

For someone who is considering starting to read Coben’s mysteries, this is probably not the book to get started with. My introduction to Coben was Tell No One, which is still one of my favorites and it’s also a stand-alone book that doesn’t use Coben’s series detective, Myron Bolitar.

And I do recommend reading Harlan Coben. His books are fast paced with great mysteries and just the right amount of humor.

Lock ReadyMy latest novel, Lock Ready, is a historical novel set on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the Civil War. It is the third book in the Canawler series.

I never started to write historical fiction. However, in 2000, my wife and I were living in Cumberland, Md., where the canal ended. We decided to bike the canal towpath one summer and sightsee and camp along the way. The C&O Canal is a national park that runs from Cumberland to Georgetown.

We outfitted our bikes for the long trip and set out for what turned out to be a five-day trip. The weather was nice and the trip is a pleasant and scenic one. There are hiker-biker campsites along the way where you can camp overnight. We took advantage of those a few nights and stayed in hotels other nights.

As we traveled, I consulted the towpath guide to check out what might be nearby to see. I soon realized that a lot of history had happened along the canal. The Battle of Antietam, the Harpers Ferry revolt and James Rumsey tested a steamboat along the Potomac. There were also interesting architectural features like the Paw Paw Tunnel, aqueducts and canal houses to look over.

Being a writer, I started trying to figure out what was the best way to tell the story of the canal in a way that would interest readers.

I started playing with some ideas even while my wife and I were still biking the canal towpath.

My breakthrough came about when I decided that the most-interesting time on the canal happened during the Civil War. While the Mason-Dixon Line is credited with being the border between the North and South, the C&O Canal was the border between Union and Confederacy.

Not only did canallers have to deal with the normal issues of living and working on the canal, but armies were traveling along the towpath. Canal boats were being burned and confiscated. Saboteurs were trying to blow up the aqueducts and burn the locks. Loyalties were tested.

With my setting decided, I realized I was going to be writing my first historical novel. I started researching the canal history and canal life. As I learned more about the people who lived and working on the canal, I started to get an idea of who I wanted the characters of my books to be.

They took shape and I gave them their individual stories and personalities that seem to have resonated with readers over the past decade.

Here I am at The Book Center in Cumberland, MD, on Nov. 19. I'm the one on the left, in case you couldn't tell.

I’ve been a published author since 1996 and an independent author since 2001. While each new book that I publish presents new challenges, I’ve been able to build upon the things I’ve done to market my previous books. It doesn’t make marketing my books any easier, it just gets me up and running faster.

Now, I’ve come to realize that I’ve learned quite a bit about marketing over those years even if I might not be able to summarize it.

However, I have just come to realize that by seeing how far someone else has to go. In working with a new author, I’ve seen in him a large reluctance to market, a narrow focus on market area, a heavy reliance on book signings and Facebook fan pages, and a resistance to stepping outside of his comfort zone.

I used to do a lot of those things myself, and I can see that looking back. I can also see how wrong those ideas were. For instance, one of the reasons I became an independent author was because I thought that I could focus tightly on marketing my novel to a limited area. That worked until I started getting orders from places outside of the area where I was marketing. Then I realized that I couldn’t be so tightly focused.

I was also resistant to go outside my comfort zone, but I’ve forced myself to do that because I’ve seen the benefits as my book sales increase.

This is not to say that I’m at the end of the long journey of learning how to market books. I’m not, not by a long shot, but at least now, I can look back and see how far I’ve come. I can see that I have learned marketing lessons and applied them to my work.

So experience does pay off if you’re willing to learn the lessons that it is teaching.

collage-2015Looking for a way to jump start your writing? I’ve always found writer’s conferences give my enthusiasm a recharge. I mean, let’s face it, writing can be lonely work, and that isolation can lead to a waning of enthusiasm. A writer’s conference will put you amid a group of writers who will be talking about writing. Add to that workshops and talks and you’ll put your creativity on steroids.

I have never failed to leave a writer’s conference without some new ideas whether it on how to write, how to market, or some new contact that I want to pursue. I’m also anxious to start putting the things I’ve learned to use.

This year, I’ve discovered the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Conference in Hagerstown, Md., or rather, I rediscovered it. It used to be called the Nora Roberts Writers Institute Conference. I had seen that conference listed last year, but I thought it was a conference for romance writers so I had passed on it.

Now in its third year, the name has been changed to the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute to make it clear that it has something to offer for writers of all genres. In fact, I’ll be teaching a session this year about writing historical fiction. Looking through the schedule for this year, I see sessions on science fiction, writing in general, thrillers, social media, independent publishing, fantasy, and more. I definitely see plenty of sessions that I’ll be attending to learn rather than simply teach.

Check out the web site for yourself and maybe I’ll see you there!

new-amazon-kindleI was reading Joanna Penn’s Author 2.0 Blueprint the other day and she noted, “If you’re self-publishing, most of us make the vast chunk of our income from ebooks, because there are no restrictions on sales and readers don’t even have to know who published the book.” (BTW, you can get this book for free from her web site and it’s a great resource.)

This statement in the book struck me because it’s far from my own experience. I get about 45% of my income from my books and about 5% from my ebooks. I certainly wouldn’t mind it being the other way around if my current book level made up the 5%.

With a $7.99 ebook, I earn a $5.42 royalty for each sale. For $2.99 ebooks, I earn $2.04 and for $0.99 ebooks, I earn $0.35. That a pretty high percentage (35% to 68%).

By contrast, for a $19.95 paperback, I earn between $5 and $15 after subtracting the book production costs. That means I’m earning between 25% and 75% in net profit for each book.

So per book, I make more for each print book than I do for each ebook. Ebooks tend to be less expensive, though, but you need an e-reader to read them. I still run into plenty of people who tell me that they don’t have an e-reader or that they like the feel of a book in their hands. To be honest, I also meet people who look at my books and ask if they are available on Kindle, Nook, or Kobo.

I still need physical books to sell when I do festivals or presentations. People are there ready to buy and are looking for them.

My book sales have been growing nicely over the past couple years, but the e-books haven’t kept up. It certainly seems like it would be a more efficient use of my time if I was selling a couple thousand ebooks a month.

I think Penn’s statement just shows how much better my marketing needs to become. It’s all right, but it needs to be better. It can be better.

So what are your experiences? Do ebooks or physical books sell better for you? What are your best marketing techniques?

thI recently read this blog about the “10 things authors have to learn the hard way…”. It made me think. My first novel was published with a traditional publisher in 1996. By 2001, I had decided to make the jump to independent publishing and I have looked back since.

That doesn’t mean it has been easy. Far from it. Luckily, the independent publishing world is a community that is willing to help each other out. I’ve try to be open to new ideas that I’m not trying and evaluate whether they work for me. When I have questions, I can usually find someone willing to share their knowledge with me. I try to reciprocate when the opportunity arises.

So here’s my list of the things I had to learn the hard way. Some are the same as the other blog, but I’ve included my experience with them.

No one but you cares as much about your book  

I considered the traditional publisher I was first published with pretty good. I didn’t have any complaints at the time and my books seemed to sell well. Looking back now, I see there are so many things I could have done to make the book even more successful. I was new to publishing, though. I didn’t know about some of the things I could have done and my publisher didn’t suggest them. When I became an independent author, I found myself on the lookout for ways to make my book better whether it was writing, production, or marketing. No one has as much invested in your book as you and no one should want to see it succeed more than you. Unfortuneately, the way I’ve seen this play out sometimes is that the author is unbending in believing that anyone could help them improve their book. If you want what’s best for your book, sometimes that means getting help from other experts.

Traditional publishing is not better than self-publishing

When I started independent publishing, there a definite stigma to it. Despite this, I still considered it the best way to go my first project. I’ve seen that stigma slowly vanish, though. That’s because the quality of indepently published projects has gotten better and better. I used to be hesitant to say that I was independently published, but it no longer bothers me because it shouldn’t.

You’ve got to step outside your comfort zone

Many writers are introverts. So am I. I would rather spend my days writing, but I’ve learned about half of my time needs to be dedicated to marketing and administration. I do it because it needs to be done. I was pretty eager with my first project and did a lot of marketing, which helped the book. With my second book, I didn’t do as much marketing for reasons I can’t remember and the sales of that book reflected it.

Success is not guaranteed

I love reading the case studies about people succeeding in publishing. I even try to duplicate some of the things they do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I certainly haven’t achieved the level of success that they have. I have become successful, though. My income continues to grow and I grow more comfortable with what I’m doing.

While success is not guaranteed, persistence increases your chances

As my income grows and my comfort level increases with what I’m doing, I find that I’m more willing to put myself out there and develop new approaches to writing and marketing. With traditional publishing, there’s a strong tendency to make a big splash quick before the publisher’s marketing attention moves on. With independent publishing, you can continue to market your old titles as well as your new ones and build you audience.

girl_writing_outsideNow that the weather has gotten very nice, I find myself spending some of my days in the sun room of my house. It’s bright and pleasant, but most importantly, it inspires me.

Not directly inspire me, but it improves my mood. I find that the attitude change helps me focus on my work.

It doesn’t have to be the sunroom that inspires me. Many times, all I need is change a change of place that gives my work a jumpstart. The other day simply taking my work into the living room and sitting in the sun started my creative juices flowing. I sat in a chair with my face in the sun reading and suddenly I was writing out the draft for the beginning of a chapter on a book that I’m writing.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes it is just a change of position that gets me moving forward. Sometimes, I’ll take a notebook and lay down on the floor and start writing.

On gorgeous days when it’s hard to stay inside, I will even go outside and sit in a hammock swing or take a trip to a local park.

So does a change of location or position give your writing a jumpstart? Where is your favorite spot to write?

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