Stories

Like the Fond, Uncounted Rain, We Fall All the Day.

The doorbell rings.

It’s only the thought that it might be my monthly delivery from Quel Fromage! that gets me out of my chair at all–but of course it isn’t. The green jumpsuit, the white plastic boots, even the multitude of thin wire bands he wears around his neck and wrists, might be a uniform, but it clearly isn’t U.P.S.

He begins without a greeting. “Got the year, Jackie?”

“Year?”

“Sure yeah. Sorry n’all, but the gizmo glitches when it jumps sometimes. Date and time all fuzzled.”

He doesn’t look insane. As a guess, I’d make him in his early twenties, college student type, only with a green jumpsuit. His head is shaved in a wide band up to the crown. Above that, a thick mop sits like a luxurious blond yarmulke.

“The date?” It takes me a minute. “The eighteenth,” I say. “June 18th.”

He goggles at me. “Eighteen? Like twenny-two eighteen?”

Now it’s my turn to goggle. “No. What? Do you mean the year?” His words—Got the year, Jackie?—come back to me. I take a breath. “It’s 2016. What year did you expect it to be?”

He throws his head back in exasperation. “Kring! I knew this wasn’t the when I punched!” He waves the gizmo at me. “Twenny-two sixteen! Meltdown is playing the Iron Lung, last gig ever!” A look of disgust crumples his features. “Instead, I wind up in the stone-age zone.” He gives me a rueful look. “No ‘fense, Jackie.”

“None taken.”

He makes with a deep, soulful sigh. “Well, glitchy tech is glitchy tech. Whatcha gonna do?” He holds up the device so I can see. “UbiQuix 20. Cozy Jon said I shoulda grabbed the Simpiternity, but they’re so old story.”

I play along. “Does this mean you’re stranded here? Can you get back to your own…”

“Oh yeah, no sure. Not even. I’ll just punch the recall circuit.” He toggles some doodad on the gizmo’s control pad. “But it’s going to take some time. The busload’s pretty fragged, I’ll betcha. Just gotta waste some minutes.”

We stand there at the doorway, me in, he out, and an unexpected wave of compassion wells up. Whatever delusion I’m living through, it doesn’t seem to have left me entirely without the social graces. “You can come inside if you want. You don’t have to wait on the porch.”

He gives me a smile. “That’s fond, cousin! I’m onboard.”

Inside, he takes a seat in one of the comfier chairs, glancing around the room, utterly not discomfited.

“Are you sure this is where you’re supposed to be?” I ask. “I mean, there’s no…clubs around here.”

He shakes his head, rechecking some readout. “No. Location is just so. Time is the mess.”

I nod. Sometime—two hundred years from now—my house will be a place called the Iron Lung, where Meltdown will play their last gig ever. Time really is the mess. My guest surveys the reach of my living room. “Nice element,” he says.

“Thanks.”

“Small,” he says, nodding. “You in a proke group?”

“Pardon?”

“No scandal either way, Jackie. Just thought, you being old and all, you probably done the whole routine, squeezing out the school.”

“School?” I am not keeping up.

“Little fish?” he offers. “Forwarding the genome?”

“Ah. Yes. Sure. We have three kids, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Only three? Wowza. Didn’t know you twennies were so scant with the offspring. My proke was up to three hundred and sixty-two, last count.”

I gulp. “That’s a lot of…fish.”

“Not all fish,” he explains. “The prime proke group was twenny-nine, plus some lookers. A good group grows in all the ways.”

I take an intuitive leap. “Group marriage?”

“Natch. Course, I’m plenty ripe for my own group now, but I’m not tending to dash. I was in a boot-knock in Amsterdam last summer, great bunch of bed-folk. I was fond. But I’m too young to stumble into the first proke group that comes along.”

“Very sensible.”

“You nailed that one, coz. So, what’s your gig?”

“Gig? As in job?”

“Sure yeah. How do you means and ends?”

I clear my throat. It always sounds so odd to say it out loud. “I’m a writer.”

His eyes widen. “No drossing? Like stories and such? That’s crisp, cousin! I’m rabid for stories. What’s your mode? PsychoRomps? HoodooPeeps? DreamSpex?”

“Uh, yeah. You know, I’m not really sure what you’d call it—”

“Hey, what’s your name? I’ve swiped some of the ancients. Maybe I’ve downed some of your content.”

I tell him. His face remains blank. “Sorry, Jacko. No register. I guess you’re not big in the Twenny-Three.”

“I can’t say I’m too surprised.”

“But I’m smit to down your stuff. Got anything ready to up?”

I frown. “You want to read one of my books? Now?”

Some word or another seems to perplex him. He taps a spot on his left temple, just below the shaved hairline. Something clicks, then whirs. “Standard acc-port,” he says, “Fryline? BitBlur? Even a Transwire, if that’s your techlevel.”

I shake my head, helpless.

“Well how much content do you got, Jackie? I’m gonna wink soon, but I could down a few.”

“Uh, three. Three novels. So far.”

“Three?” He is as aghast at my lack of literary output as he was at my poor showing in the progeny department. “Fring, coz! You gotta get with! My fav, Inkling Fedora? She pops two hundred a year, easy.”

“Two hundred? Novels?”

“Sure, yeah, sure. Gotta keep the current on. Her last psychoromp series knocked up thirty-seven volumes. And Revard Melch? He ups like a book a day. ‘Course it’s all SkinJims, so no great exercise sopping that stuff. You can down two or three between between station stops, if that’s your sort of fare. Hey! You all right, Jack?”

In fact, I’m feeling a little dizzy. Not serious, I’m sure, but standing up abruptly would definitely be a poor choice at the moment. His gizmo gives a tuneful little toodle, and he checks some readout. “Hey, not long now! I’m queued.” He smiles. “You’ve been a kinsman, coz. A real lungful of fresh. I’ll mention you to the future.”

He continues to sit there, looking pleasantly bland. Nothing seems to be happening, as far as I can tell.

“Hey!” I say, experiencing what seems to be a sudden lucid moment. “Do you people do this a lot? I mean, visit the past?”

He nods. “Sure, yeah, yeah. No major.”

“But—what about continuity and all that? I mean, aren’t you afraid of messing up your own timeline?”

He finds this pretty funny. “No, no, Jacks. Not much chance. I mean, certain precautions, sure, yeah, but time is pretty elastic. Bouncy, even. It all snaps back pretty proper. Like, you won’t even remember this.”

“No? I find that hard to believe.”

“Well, maybe a few snips and bits, but nothing certain. Trust me. This is a one-way tumble. It’s all strictly—”

And all at once, he isn’t there anymore. No flash, no shimmer, no bang, no whimper. Just me, staring at an empty chair.

Which is an odd thing to find yourself doing at 11:15 in the morning.

I get up. I check the front door. Maybe I’m getting old, but I would’ve sworn I heard the doorbell. Sure. That’s right. I was at my desk and the doorbell rang…

But there’s no one there. Some ding-dong ditch kid. Or I’m hearing things.

Or maybe just hungry. I am expecting my delivery from Quel Fromage! today. I’m hoping for a nice dill Havarti. And maybe a wedge of Stilton Blue.

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writing technique

Nonsense and Stuff

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Our guest post today is from Jack Penny, an illustrator and writer of nonsense, who gives us an insight into a genre which, despite a long tradition, remains out of the mainstream.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe. 

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”’

 The first two verses here of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) are a wonderful example of nonsense verse. Literary nonsense is not literally nonsense, but a genre of writing that makes sense and meaning of language and reasoning that seem otherwise rather unreasonable.

Though literary nonsense has been around for a marvelously long time, it is still rather unknown and far too often confused. I regularly have to explain in interviews what nonsense exactly is, and I do so through comparing it to the fantasy genre. Fantasy is a genre that creates a world in its entirety. There may be no gravity perhaps, or maybe people eat milk and drink cheese, but whatever world is created is bound by an established set of rules. What separates nonsense from the more popular genre of fantasy is that there is no bounding set of rules. There is a surprisingly deep, and playfully intellectual nature to nonsense that lifts it above gibberish.

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I once read an article that tried to explain a good approach to practicing writing nonsense verse.

First, write a normal poem, rhyming or not, about anything. For instance, ‘to drink ones cheese and eat ones milk’.

Then move some words around based not on meaning but entirely on the sounds and rhythm to make the verse as fluid as possible. ‘To one’s cheese drink, and one’s eat milk’.

Finally, select about a third of the words on each line and change them entirely to a made-up word that rhymes/sounds alike. For instance, milk may become brilk (I did this by combining the words brill and milk), or cheese may become seech (done by reversing sounds). And so we are left with, ‘to one’s seech drink, and one’s eat brilk’.

The opening verse of a poem I wrote perhaps three years ago runs:

‘Set err upon the clarinet.

Befell, t’was a languid strange stoop.

There sat a coy end when,

ambled empty fate.’

 Perhaps from this it is hard to tell that the original text was about an ex-girlfriend of mine and went something like this:

Met her on the Internet

Tell friends it was a language exchange group

She had a boyfriend then

Cancelled many dates

Nonsense is a writing genre bound by nothing, and so can in fact also be used in rationale and reasoning as deftly as anywhere else. I recently published a book called From the Riddle Me Collection Volume One: A Stone’s Throw, that contains 200 original riddles that, rather than relying on the metaphorical or allegorical, rely in a nonsensical way on etymological and idiomatic aspects of the English language.

‘If I am slow I may be a poke, or if I’m not I may be sure. If I am bold I may be brass, favoured by fortune, or made to venture. What is up may not be up but in fact belted and so quiet, while what is down may be brought, at least by a peg or two.’

So to end this feature a small riddle for you:

I have no mouth but there a spoke

Put in me, on such words I choke,

See fortune’s me, luck’s where it lands,

I come in two and four me bands,

But where a two and one more nuisance spurred;

A third.

The answer is available, along with 200 other riddles, beautiful illustrations and other extras in the first book of the series, from my shop here: www.jackbrutuspenny.com/shop

Author: Jack Brutus Penny  www.jackbrutuspenny.com

You can find From The Riddle Me Collection Volume one: A Stone’s Throw at Amazon.com and Amazon.uk

 

 

 

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book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Secret Agent Plan

OR

Five Four Three Two One Unique Ways to Get an Agent

Oh these sad and weary tales of woe.

Nope. Not this time. We’ve all been there and done that. Personally, I’ve read so many articles over the years about how to write the ideal query letter and get the perfect literary agent that I ought to be an authority by now. Unfortunately, like the typical ‘rules for writing’ article, most of them are little more than a list of things you shouldn’t do:

DON’T do mass, impersonal, “Dear Agent” queries;

DON’T query agents for genres they don’t represent;

DON’T make hyperbolic promises about your book being a guaranteed bestseller;

DON’T lie about all the literary awards you obviously haven’t won;

DON’T spell their names wrong.

There are lots more, but they all break down to the same basic piece of advice: be professional. A query letter is a business letter. Agents are in business to make money, so don’t waste their time with a lot of nonsense. Pitch the book, give your credentials, keep it brief. And edit for typos.

I think I’ve crafted some pretty good query letters in my day, but most great query letters end up in the same place as all the poor query letters: the reject pile. I don’t want to belabor a point that has been made too many times in too many places, so let’s just take it as a given that writing is hard, getting published is hard, making money is hard, yada yada yada. You can do everything right and still end up in the slush pile. In fact, most of us do.

Of course, most of us also keep dreaming. So when an article called “5 Unique Ways to Land An Agent” appeared in my email feed this morning, I had to look. Given that I am too cynical and hardboiled to believe that there are any magic beans in the publishing world, I wasn’t expecting much.

Guess what? There wasn’t much. Nothing against Meredith Blevins, who is a reasonably successful author and, I’m sure, a fine teacher, but I had to laugh at her list of five. I’ll summarize:

1) Get a writing degree. If you do (or hopefully did), you’ll meet people who can give you references and personal introductions and stuff like that.

2) Go to a writer’s conference, for the same basic reason.

3) Really. Go to a writer’s conference!

4) In fact, here’s one writer’s conference in particular that worked for one author she knows.

5) Go to New York and talk to agents in person. (The first time I typed this, I wrote “talk to agents in prison.” Sometimes the fingers just know what you’re really thinking.)

Maybe I’ve miscounted, but that’s really only three unique ways to land an agent. Unfortunately, two of them are nearly useless. Not a lot of us have the wherewithal to fly to New York or to attend graduate school (or even writer’s conferences, for that matter.) Her bottom line advice can be summarized thus: personal contact is always better than a letter. I have no doubt she is right. But also? Wow. Obvious.

So do these things work? Does a writing degree or attending writer’s conferences at least increase your chances of landing an agent? Maybe. I’m sure they can’t hurt. But I’ve known writers who have gone to plenty of conferences and never gotten representation, because it’s still an uphill battle against very long odds.han-solo-odds

I’ve had some big name agents request full manuscripts of mine, even had one offer rewrite suggestions—which I followed to the best of my ability and conscience—only to meet with eventual rejection. Not because she thought the book was bad, but because she didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth her time and effort

The bottom line really is the bottom line.

But put all that gloom and doom aside. I’d love to get your take. Have you succeeded in landing an agent? What did it take? Did it help? Are agents even the way to go in this era?

Discuss, please.

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book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Google Ads

Where now?

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I’m not going to talk about my first published novel, let alone the first one I wrote. Not that it’s a matter of the less said the better, but I don’t want to keep you up all night. So we’ll just go as far back as One Green Bottle, released last September.

Sales have been minimal. I hesitate to say disappointing, because one positive point, at least, is that I had no expectations. So I’m not plunged into a slough of despair. Objectively, though, there’ll be little point in continuing if the second book doesn’t do better.

Is it down to the book itself? There’s always that doubt – did I write a dud? But I’ve had enough feedback now to be fairly confident I didn’t. The book’s OK, it’s readable. People – if they knew about it – might enjoy it. Obviously, though, what I have written is a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.

So where now? How am I preparing for the release of Perfume Island, scheduled for September? What are the steps to follow?

Reviews. Here on this site, Atthys Gage suggests a first step is to get a minimum of 15 to 20 advance reviews that will appear on or near the date of the book launch. After a year of blogging, I’ve built up enough of a following to make that number realistic. It’s been pointed out to me that reviews are of little value, since they only get seen by people who are already on your Amazon page. Very true – in the process leading from awareness of product to purchase of product, reviews are close to the purchase end. Nonetheless, it’s better to have them than not. If someone goes to your page and finds zero reviews, it’s not a great incentive to buy (even if many people say they don’t read the reviews, there are still plenty who do).

But the question remains: how to build the awareness that will drive people to Amazon in the first place? I read again and again that the main tool here is the mailing list. Get enough people to sign up to your newsletter and you can send them emails to inform them of new releases, giveaways and any other snippets that might be of interest. Even if only half of your subscribers open the newsletter, and out of those that do, one in 10 buys your book, that’s 50 purchases for every 1000 subscribers.

I haven’t been good with newsletters. I started one, dropped it, left a long gap and started a second one recently. Furthermore, I’ve been in a dither about what to put in it. Giveaways? Contests? Updates on the WIP? Pictures of the cat? I’ve subscribed to several myself and you find all of that (including the cat). In the end I settled for giveaway contests and a couple of serialised stories. Which is probably overcomplicating things – advice I’ve read since is to keep it simple. Inform of an upcoming release, a special offer maybe, and that’s it.

Everyone agrees you have to offer an incentive – people only sign up if they get something from it. So far I have 19 subscribers. Hmm… Perhaps my giveaways don’t give enough. I did think of offering a Lamborghini but decided against it in the end. Because the problem with giving away anything other than your books is that you’re not gaining readers but freeloaders. And to give away a book, you need to have written at least two, because the point is to get people reading (and liking) the first so then they’ll buy the second. Which is why the release of Perfume Island will be not just a writing milestone for me but a marketing one as well.

It’s possible also that I focus too much on my blog. It’s good to have one, yes, but it’s time-consuming and the sort of organic growth it offers is slow. Unless you have a massive following, it’s not the best way to build your mailing list. If I rely solely on my blog, awareness of the existence of Perfume Island is going to be way too low for any substantial number of readers to find it. So what’s the alternative? Twitter? I could do more there, but I still have trouble getting my head round it, and in terms of raising awareness, it’s one of the least effective channels there is. Yes, it can be done, but it requires dedication, personal engagement and time – much the same effort, in fact, as I put into my blog.

So now, very cautiously, I’m investigating Facebook. Reluctantly too – I like Facebook about as much as I like stepping in dog poo. But at least now I’ve cleared the first hurdle, which was understanding the Facebook philosophy: why be user-friendly when you can be as maddening as a swarm of midges? Once you get that straight, it’s a matter of breathing deeply and staying calm. And now at last I have a Facebook page, as well as a profile. I only recently learned the difference: the page is where you tell people how great your book is, the profile is where you tell them what you had for breakfast. For the moment my page says I’m username@create.page. When I try to put my own name there, I’m told ‘You’re not eligible.’ Do they deign to explain why? Of course not. Courtesy isn’t part of their vocabulary. After much searching, though, I gather I need my page to be ‘liked’ before I can really call it my own. 25 times, if I’ve understood correctly. So now I’m in the ignominious position of begging people – that’s you, dear reader – to ‘like’ my Facebook page in order for me to truly virtually exist. When I get to 100 likes, I’ll start to levitate.

You might be wondering why I put myself through this ordeal. The answer is simple: ads. Now, I’m not saying I’m actually going to do them, but I’m setting out to explore them. Facebook ads, apparently, provide an effective way of raising awareness of your book among the sort of readers likely to like it. They also cost money, so you have to be very careful how you do it. GD has told us about, and warned us away from, Google ads. Facebook could well be the same, so I’m approaching this the way I walk through a forest full of zombies in the dead of night. But one thing is clear: if I don’t do something, Perfume Island will be released to barely more effect than One Green Bottle. A pebble dropped in the ocean. Because getting reviews is only a fraction of the task – now I have to get people to notice that the book actually exists.

I’m pretty sure, as Perry Palin says, that in the end it’s all personal, a matter of gaining readers one by one. But I’m ready to give the other approach a try. Maybe I’ll chicken out, or be driven so mad by Facebook I’ll have to be locked away. Whatever happens, I’ll keep you updated on progress. In the meantime, I humbly beg you to nip over to Facebook and adore my page.

 

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book promotion, book sales

Publishing Through a Start-up Independent Publisher

Our guest post today is from Tom Wolosz, writer, hiker and geologist, who kindly proposed to document his trek through the ups and downs of Bookkus…
[Let me preface this by saying that I’ve enjoyed working with Bookkus, and hold no hard feelings toward anyone there. The publishing business is tough, and everyone gives it their best shot. So I won’t use any names, but will be honest about my experience. I will always be grateful for their support, and for publishing my book.]
     My history is similar to what a number of others have described here – after beginning my novel Agony of the Gods I joined Book Country. For about a year it was a great site – lots of good friends critiquing each other’s work, lots of good advice for me. When I finished about the 6th draft I started submitting to publishers with zero success. Truthfully, it still needed a lot of work, and, since I was an unpublished writer, at over 400,000 words it was way too long for an established publishing house to take as chance on.
     At about that time a comment appeared in a thread I was following. A publisher was looking for manuscripts, but he was following a new model – the readers, as opposed to an editor, would decide what to publish. Sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try. (I should also mention that at about this time there was a major change at Book Country. The original site administrator left, and there appeared to be a shift to pushing their self-publishing services. This soured me on the site because I’ve always felt that pushing self-publishing is a bit dishonest, but I won’t go into that here.)
     I was soon devoting myself entirely to Bookkus. The concept is fascinating. Let the reviewers decide! Submit your ms. and if you get about 10-20 reviews and they average 3.5/5 or better you’ve got a shot at getting published. Now it isn’t a slam dunk because the initial reviews are available to the author. The publisher realized that very often folks might write a good review so as not to be cruel, while not really feeling the book is worth publishing. So the next step was a closed discussion. At this point the author is excluded from the group so the reviewers can be frank in their comments.
     I really enjoyed taking part. I read a number of books, many of which were clearly not publishable (first drafts with more grammatical errors and misspellings than not, poorly thought out plots filled with non sequiturs, etc.). In reviewing them I always tried to be helpful despite giving them poor ratings (what we all wish publishers would do). For those that moved on to the closed session I found the point-counterpoint discussions over whether or not to publish fascinating. Although one thought that struck me early on was that I really had no skin in the game. My cold, hard cash wasn’t on the table which made it a bit easier to argue “publish!” In the end two of the three books I thought were publishable were accepted, although only one has actually seen the light of day.
     In the meantime Agony was getting some good reviews. It went into closed session and the result was a decision to publish! Obviously, I was thrilled.
     The process after that was a bit stressful. I think the biggest problem was that in working with a start-up you’re dealing with folks who have limited experience themselves.
     My first editor started by telling me she loved the book (which really wasn’t true – there was a hole in the website program which allowed me to sneak in and read the publish-or-not discussion), and then told me to cut it by 1/3 and totally rewrite one of the main characters including discarding her origin story! Distressed, I contacted the publisher. He told me that the relationship between author and editor is often argumentative, and that I should just carefully explain to her why I felt I couldn’t follow her advice. I did, and the response I got was “Just do what I say!” That pretty much stalled progress on my book. At the same time another book I had reviewed was in publish-or-not discussion, and despite an 11 – 0 vote in favor by the reviewers, my editor insisted it was horrible and should not be published. That put the publisher in a bind because the Bookkus model is “let the readers decide.” In the end, he over-ruled my editor, and the decision was publish. My editor then resigned.
     A couple of weeks later I had a new editor, and we worked well together. Whenever he saw a problem we discussed it and reached a conclusion satisfactory to all. Granted, one reason for the big difference between editors consisted of this one being hired by the publisher on a per book basis, so I also assume his attitude was to be helpful and give advice but if I didn’t want to take it, well that was my problem.
     In the meantime, the publisher was looking for cover art. We tried a few for-hire illustrators (lots of websites out there offering cover art), but found either nothing of interest or limited ability to modify their graphic art (if they had something with potential, modifications we asked for were beyond their capability). The publisher finally did it himself. He came up with a simple cover illustration which really did the trick. I’ve always been very pleased with it.
     The final step was working with the line editor. This guy was not as bad as my first editor, but was close. I’m pretty sure he had written a book himself, which only added to his know-it-all attitude (granted to be a writer, myself included, you need a pretty large ego), and he did make some valuable comments (I do greatly overuse ‘that’) and corrections. Unfortunately, he had absolutely no concept of science fiction. In some cases I politely explained his mistakes, in others I just ignored him. He was also in love with a computer program which counts the number of times a word is used and highlights perceived overuse. I do know I often “fall in love” with words and overuse them, but recognizing this foible I work to correct it. Unfortunately, many times there are only a limited number of choices. My line editor would apparently run to the thesaurus, find a word I had not used and substitute it for mine. The problem was he ignored the first rule of the thesaurus game – when you find a nifty synonym check the dictionary to make sure it really fits. I must admit there were a number of times my annoyance was curbed by my chuckling at the words he chose. In the end I accepted about 10% of his suggestions.
     Well, Agony of the Gods was finally published in January of 2014. This is where the real problem with a small independent publisher comes into play. I think the publisher’s hope was “build it and they will come,” – that the lure of a book chosen by the reading community would be enough to ensure sales. Well, it hasn’t happened yet.
     We went through the free kindle version giveaways (a couple of times) and there was an initial spurt of good reviews, but things never seemed to take off. On the Bookkus website my book is up to around 280 members (to what degree that translates to sales I have no idea). The publisher contacted me about a book tour, but that failed to materialize despite my being willing to foot the bill. I think the problem comes down to the limited number of reviews. My book has 31 on Goodreads and 15 on Amazon, but without 50 – 100 or more it appears to be difficult to generate interest for signings, readings, etc. So there has only been very limited marketing which is a major problem.
     I also set up a Webpage running a blog about writing, and while I do get a number of visits every week, there’s no evidence that this has helped market my book.
     Sales overall have been meager, a few copies here, a few there (mostly Kindle). How does it stack up to the other Bookkus books? Hard to say since I can only look at the Amazon listings, but they all appear about the same, maybe a bit better than mine.
     What’s the overall outlook? Again, hard to say. The publisher has pretty much let the website float since November, when his last new post went up. Having now published 7 books, the publisher may be out of cash, or just waiting to see if anything takes off before pulling the plug. I don’t know, but at this point all I can do is wait and see.
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reading

Writing DaysZ 3

Morning sunlight on the golf course leaves the woman’s orchid-scattered lanai in shade. It’ll be in the 90’s today. High in the blue sky, an eagle already rides the updrafts. I sit quietly, listening to the repertoire of Mockingbirds and watching pine squirrels scamper on the grass two stories below. Before it heats up, there is time to write about the great Eugenics Fallacy of today. (Google Eugenics if you don’t know what I mean. It was the “scientifically-proven” horror of the 20th Century.)

Bob vs the Aliens
To read the story from the beginning, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

Stop Continental Drift!

If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
 – Anatole France
(1844-1924, born François-Anatole Thibault, French poet, journalist, novelist)

+++They watched the three-foot-tall Alien walk until he was half a block away. “He looks so forlorn.” Piper sounded empathetically sad. “We have to help him,” she squeezed Bob’s arm.
+++“Yeh,” Bob chuckled. “I never knew a spherical person could walk hunched over like that.”
+++“Bob!” The squeeze of his arm sharpened.
+++“OKAY. Hey,” he yelled. “Spice!! You can’t walk to Denver! It’s two thousand miles away.”
+++Piper was now tugging on his arm. “We can’t let him go alone.”
+++“Don’t worry, he’s doing the math. See – he’s stopped.” Bob was reluctant to be dragged into walking two thousand miles. Not that he had any engagements, work or otherwise. When he’d last called in for work, the lecture circuit for funeral speakers hadn’t anything for him but wailing gigs. “Check the local obits,” was their advice. He was single, too, no attachments there. Life was just the way he liked it.
+++“1,632 miles,” Old Spice announced. “That’s 544 hours if we don’t stop.” He read the street signs at Central Avenue and Oak Street. “The way is well marked.”
+++Piper’s insistent grip pulling him towards the Alien had fully extended his arm. Decision time. Go with her or fall on his face. “OKAY.” He stumbled forward, muttering. “But I ain’t walking. We hitchhike.”
+++“What’s hitch hiking?” Spice asked.
+++“You stand by the road and hook your thumb out like this,” Bob showed Spice, who stepped into the intersection holding up his thumb just as a blue bus covered in colorful lettering careened from around the corner into him. The spherical Alien concaved like a collapsing basketball then rebounded ahead of the bus now screeching to a halt. The bus and Spice rolled to a stop in front of Bob and Piper. She rushed to him. “Spice! Are you alright?” People piled out of the bus. “OMG!” and “It’s an alien,” some said while others checked the front of the bus. Bob helped Spice to his feet.
+++“My suit saved me.” The Alien brushed himself off.
+++Piper fingered his suit. “It looks like regular spandex.”
+++“I backed it with duct tape,” Spice explained, turning thoughtful. “Say, if you people are ever allowed to export, I’d start with duct tape. It would sell just about anywhere in the galaxy.”
+++“Are you injured?” A bearded young white man broke from the group of diverse young people around the bus. He stopped to look twice at Old Spice. “You’re an alien! Not that that’s bad.” He added hastily. “Aliens are welcome.”
+++“You’ll take us to Denver?”
+++“Uh. Well, we are headed west.” He extended his hand. “My name is Jackson, Jackson Pfizer.”
+++“Pleased to meet you, Jackson Jackson. May I call you Jackson?”
+++“Please do.” Jackson’s smile broke through the confused look on his face. “I just received my Doctorate in Social Media.” The confused look returned. “Well,” he backed away. “If you are OKAY….”
+++“I am, Doctor Jackson. Let’s go.” Spice boarded the bus.
+++Bob studied the bus. It was hand painted in the style of wall graffiti, a blue base covered with orange volcanoes erupting over yellow buildings toppling in earthquakes. Scrawled below the windows in big fluorescent lime green letters was, “Stop Continental Drift!” and “Pin The Plates!!” He grinned and followed Piper aboard. They headed west.
+++It didn’t take long to meet the other Doctorates on the bus, it being a short bus. Each had recently completed their PhD in a socially acceptable field and were doing their Residency on a government funded tour. Sitting with the group gathered around Spice, Bob studied their eager faces while Piper told him what he was seeing, one of her professional talents as a journalist. “Each represents a different culture.”
+++They were served tea by a girl with an angry look on her Oriental face who tried to smile but failing, supplicated, “We have to save the planet.” She offered Spice her hand, “Wang Fang. The name means aromatous in my language.”
+++Spice took her hand and licked it. “Your servant.”
+++“Spice!” Piper said sharply, shaking her head. “No!”
+++Wang pulled her hand away, looking at the three of them.
+++“He’s new here,” Bob pointed out by way of explanation. “Aromas are very important in his culture.”
+++“Please forgive him,” Piper encouraged, “Go on.”
+++Recovering quickly, Wang wiped the back of her hand on her cheongsam dress, straightened and archly said, “Continental drift is causing deadly earthquakes.” Recovering even more, she leaned forward and added conspiratorially, “That’s what killed all those people in Tiananmen Square.”
+++“What?!” Bob sprayed her beautiful silk dress with sipped tea.
+++Tian’anmén Guangchang in Standard Mandarin,” Spice said, one eye consulting his inner almanac. “Also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace.”
+++Bob stared at the girl in outraged amazement. “That’s about the dumbest thing -”
+++“Hush!” Piper kicked him. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Bob!”
+++The group twittered assent.
+++“Science has proven conclusively,” Jackson intervened, “That continents drift.” Speaking with smooth authority, he calmed his group by announcing what they already knew. “Our computer models predict that at the present rate of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, civilization will be destroyed in 37 years.”
+++Piper nodded, obviously impressed. “Computers don’t lie.”
+++“We stopped using computers long ago,” Spice said. “The input always predicts the output.”
+++“I’ll bet,” Bob smiled around at the group, “That you don’t need donors. With computer models that predict the future, you make your money on the stock market. Am I right?”
+++“Of course not,” Spice corrected him. “Science cannot predict the future. Empirical science is based on measurement; one cannot measure what does not exist.”
+++“Unbeliever!” someone hissed.
+++Obviously disturbed by the drift of the conversation, Jackson coughed for attention. “The majority of scientists believe we are right. As do prominent public figures and most of the taxpayers. All of which is borne out by numerous polls. You have to believe us.”
+++Spice smiled to show he was friendly. “Empirical science does not require belief,” he said quietly but firmly. “Why do you?”
+++“Anyone who tells you they know the future wants something from you.” Bob nudged Spice, laughing. “Keep your eye on the money.”
+++Jackson looked alarmed. “Surely you are not saying that the majority of informed scientific opinion is wrong?”
+++“Check your Braincrib Notes, Spice. See what our history has to say about other ‘proven scientific facts.’ Look up Eugenics.” Bob repeated for emphasis. “Really. Eugenics. It’s worth looking up. Scientists and politicians and ordinary people believed in that ‘science,’ too. Check out the harm and the murders that insanity caused.”
+++“Really!” Jackson huffed. “We are not promoting racist theories to Nazis.”
+++“Or selling Thalidomide to pregnant women,” reflected Wang Fang.
+++“People willingly give their money to save the planet.” Jackson waved an arm at his group who again twittered assent. “It’s a good thing.”
+++“They’re giving us a ride, Bob,” Piper said with finality. “Drop it.”
+++“Well, it’s not my decision to make, of course,” Bob conceded. “I just think all that money and talent could be doing something useful.”
+++The group’s agreeable twitter changed to an angry buzz. Several texted one another on their satellite phones. When Jackson’s phone chimed, he looked and announced, “We cannot give rides to deniers. To do so risks losing our grant money. Sorry,” he signaled the Haitian bus driver who pulled over and stopped. “You must get off, now.”
+++“The Alien stays,” Wang Fang held up her hand to Spice as he rose to depart. “I notified my sponsoring agency, DARPA, about you. They are sending a helicopter to take you to Denver.”
+++Spice pushed past her. “Thank you but no. My handicap is fear of flying.  An airliner sounds bad enough but a helicopter is unthinkable. I’ll hitch hike.”
+++Standing by the road as the bus sped off, Piper had to ask, “Who ever heard of a spaceman afraid to fly?”
+++“We all have some handicap. It was a mission qualification for relating to humans.”
+++“Well, I’m glad to be off that bus,” Bob said, heading into a nearby stand of trees. “I have to pee.”
+++“Me too.” Piper followed him.
+++Spice followed them both into the trees as a helicopter whooshed overhead and loosed a missile that blew up the bus.

Seeking a second, well maybe third, cup of morning coffee, I pass the TV and see Tea Party demonstrators on the same street as Black Lives Matter, separated by cops in the middle with dogs. Imagining PETA showing up to protect the police dogs sets me to grinning at the thought of feminists, environmentalists and immigration activists joining the melee, all for attention, donations and votes.

Diversity Faire
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-2, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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It’s All Personal

We’ve written our best books. Now, how do we let people know this? How do we get people to buy our books? In my experience, it’s all personal. Let’s look at three writers I have known.

Joseph wrote eight novels. He couldn’t find an agent or a publisher. Confident in his own work, he invested almost a thousand dollars on self publishing, on paid reviews, and for on-line marketing of one of the books. He sold two copies. That didn’t work.

Charlie wrote a children’s book narrated by a Springer Spaniel living on an apple farm. He hired book consultants, a designer and an artist, and produced a full color, hard cover book on heavy paper with a dust jacket. He ordered a long first print run to keep the unit cost down. Charlie put $25,000 into the project before the first copy came from the printer. Charlie recovered his investment within three months, and after that his profits soared. His spin-offs include a comic book and a stuffed dog that looks just like Emmy, the star of the book, and he can’t keep the books and stuffed dogs in stock.

While Joseph’s book was lost in a sea of anonymous new authors, Charlie sold his book because he knows his market, and he has a personal touch to his sales.

Charlie owns the apple farm, and Emmy is a real dog. Charlie is also a retired school librarian with connections to teachers and school librarians throughout the region. He sells apples to the food service programs in the schools. He goes into elementary schools to read (but not sell) his book, trusting that some of the students will talk about his book and his farm when they get home. He reads in bookstores, and he brings Emmy to his readings. I’ve seen grandparents buy multiple copies at these readings. He sells his books, coloring books, and stuffed dogs off the back of his truck at farmers’ markets and at farm events in the fall. His apple farm supports the sale of the book, and the book promotes the farm. Key to Charlie’s success is his personal outreach at schools, at bookstores, at farmers’ markets, and at harvest events at the farm.

Michael writes creative non-fiction from a small Wisconsin town. He self-published collections of short works, and then had a full-length book picked up by one of the major publishing houses. He drove across the country with a trunk full of books to early morning interviews on local radio stations and poorly attended bookstore signings. Michael’s best market is near home, in the Upper Midwest. An independent bookstore advertises his local readings. I’ve been to three readings where there were 100 or more people in attendance. I bought books too, books that I never would have picked up in a bookstore. Michael’s now shares the stage with his own acoustic rock band, and he hosts a seasonal weekly entertainment show that is broadcast live by NPR.

Michael continues to write. He has a website and a long email list of fans. Most of his sales are to people who have heard him read or seen him perform in person. The personal touch sells his books.

I have finished my first novel, but it is not my first effort at writing. I have had short stories and essays appear in small literary journals and magazines. This builds a writer’s credentials, so say the experts, and builds a publisher’s confidence in the writer. A small traditional publisher of fishing-related books (and how I found and wooed the publisher is another story,) took a chance on me and published two collections of my short stories. I have little of my own money in the project, and the royalty structure is very good. Marketing the books, however, falls to me.

Online bookstores have resulted in few sales for me. Discussion boards where I am a known participant have been better. Some of the members of these discussion boards have given me unsolicited and very positive reviews, for which I am grateful. I can now say that I have an appreciative though small readership that stretches, thinly, from Hawaii to Finland.

I have sold dozens of books through local shops. Not bookstores, but shops where the owner is willing to display my books for a share of the revenue. This requires direct selling to the owner. Telephone contact doesn’t work; I have to walk in the front door with the books in my hands.

I asked the editor of a community events newspaper to carry an article about my first book. He said he would print an article if I would write it, and he added pictures. I was later drafted to be a columnist for the paper, which pays a little for each article, and keeps my name in front of local readers.

I was asked to speak at a meeting of a regional environmental group. My presentation was not about my books, but I had a box of them along. I prepared carefully, tried to be entertaining, finished my presentation by reading a story, and sold a few hundred dollars worth of books when the meeting was over. That was a good day for me.

This spring I was invited to read at a reception for the contributors of the literary journal of a local college. I accepted of course; personal appearances can’t be bad.

None of this easy for me. I have to work hard to sell myself and my books. But it is what works best.

I told my publisher that my novel doesn’t fit with the kind of books he handles. He offered his help in finding another publisher for the novel, another example of the power of personal relationships.

When the novel is released, what should I do to find readers? I believe that successful marketing, especially for emerging writers, is all personal.

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