Finally I’m Out of the Book Distribution Business

September 19, 2012

After five self-published novels, I have finally been accepted by a real publisher, Sunstone Press of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Sunstone is a small/medium size publisher with an impeccable repuation.  Last week week I met the key personnel at Sunstone and liked them very much.  My next novel, Canyon Road, will be released in a few weeks.  Trade paperback and e-book.  It will be available to bookstores through Ingram, one of the largest distributors in the world, and through Amazon.  I will take on most of the responsibility for generating sales, and will hopefully learn more about that soon and then begin a consistent effort.  I still believe it will be critical for me to sell movie/TV rights if I’m to ever make the really big time as a novelist.

Sunstone will re-release all of my previous novels over the next two or so years, after some edits and using new titles.  It’s true that you can teach an old dog new tricks.  With my publisher’s urging, I’m writing movie treatments and writers guides for all my books.  Readers guides (for those who may not know like me until a month ago) is a list of questions for use by book clubs or classes.  This will take another month to complete.

Then I’ll begin novel seven.  I’m planning to bring back Rhett and Toni  as the main characters, and write a political murder mystery.

Anyway, I’m thrilled to have a publisher for many reasons.  The owner of the company, Jim, told me he likes my writing, believing I do a better job than John Grisham.  Jim’s right hand man, Carl, considers my work literature.  I’m flattered and gratefulk to have professionals who believe in me. Also I’m pleased to now have exposure through Ingram and Amazon (I was available on Amazon before), and through other avenues that reach international markets.  I sold about 5,000 of my self-published books, and now I can stop worrying about inventory storage, or delivering books to book stores, or mailing one book at a time, or lifting heavy boxes.  I’m out of the distribution business.

There is some added pressure.  I need to justify the faith in me Sunstone Press has shown, and take full advantage of the opportunity to take my writing to a much higher level in terms of sales.  It’s good pressure.

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While Waiting for the Big Break

May 9, 2012

I’m well into the draft of novel number six, and it’s going well.   I’ve actually read some books lately, something I was cautious about because I didn’t want to be subconsciously or consciously directed by other authors in my writing.  But I admit that by reading others, I am learning.  But while I wait for my big break  — which is definitely coming — I need to stay motivated, and I’d like to share two stories of how that is happening through  luck or just good karma.

A few weeks ago I was on a walk through my neighborhood and by chance intercepted a nice lady who was also on her walk.  We were on the same pace, going in the same direction for at least a mile, so we walked together and chatted.  About the weather.  About allergies.  Then I introduced myself.  To my surprise and utter delight she asks, “The author?”  Very nice.

Last week I gave a copy of Lakota Dreams to one of the guards who patrols our street.  He’s one-eighth Lakota and had heard I’d written a book about his ancestors.  Well, again I was on a walk, and he’s parked on our street.  He’s reading something.  When he sees me, he jumps out of the car with a look of genuine sadness and exclaims, “Joseph just died.”  Very, very nice.  He tells me he’s loving my novel.  (Joseph is a charatcer in the book who was killed by Pawnees.)

So I stay motivated while I wait.  I’m lucky.

New Novel Officially Underway

December 27, 2011

I admit to a case of writer’s block for several months.   I blame the malady on my quitting smoking.  In the past, when I wrote my novels, I smoked as I typed, and the nicotine, or the comfort of the cigarettes, kept me engaged in the task of being creative.  So since September 12, 2010, I’ve worked on promoting my existing novels, especially my last two, but only thought about novel number 6, occasionally writing notes and doing research, but never really writing any usable pages.  But about four weeks ago I forced myself to sit down and start writing.  I made a chapter outline, which helped.  And there were some sputters, stops, and restarts.   I couldn’t decide whether I should mix my voice — speaking in the first and third persons — as I did in novel number 5, Navfac, The Final Tour of Duty.  But now I’ve completed the first 6 chapters and the first 50 pages.  And I gave the manuscript to my wife, Tanya, who is my muse and line of first defense as an editor and as a source of feedback telling me if I’m creating anything interesting.  I feel good.  I feel a bit of the fire that’s been missing for months.  The story brings back the lead characters from my first three detective novels, and in novel number 6, they’re married and have become professional private investigators.  The story takes place in Houston and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the plot, I think, is a good one.   In my past detective novels, readers know immediately who the bad people are and the suspense was all about how the crimes would be solved.    I likened this to Jaws.  Everyone knew the shark was the bad guy, but it was still a compelling story.  In this novel, I am going to keep the identity of the killers and the motives for murder under wraps for awhile, making the book a true mystery novel.  Again, it is nice to back in the saddle again.  (For smokers: if you quit, expect changes in your mental capacity for about a year, but take heart that everything you did as a smoker you can do as a non-smoker…maybe and hopefully better.)  I do think novel number six with the working title, Canyon Road, will be my best detective novel to date.

My New Book Cover

March 22, 2011

The creation of my book cover for Navfac, The Final Tour of Duty, is all I’m waiting on before self-publishing.  Again.  The manuscript won a SW Writer’s award for being one of the best novel manuscripts of the year by an independent writer, yet I still couldn’t get an agent or publisher to respond to my queries with anything other than a form rejection notice.  So the frustration continues.

I’m still promoting Lakota Dreams, with an emphasis on selling it as the basis  for a film, or more likely, a TV miniseries.  And I’ve just begun novel number six, which will resurrect Rhett Sanders and Toni Darnell from the Random Sample detective series.

What is interesting about the cover for Navfac, my artist was struggling as there was no clear, single image which seemed to stand out as an obvious solution.  It’s good book.  Perhaps my best (although I like them all and am partial to my frontier saga).  But it’s a cold war story, with murders, CIA involvement, the military, and romance.    I told my artist, Mark Moore (who did fabulous covers for books 1,2 and 4) to not worry about the cover being tasked with selling the book.  I told him that most sales would be done with me present at a book signing, a Christmas shopping event, etc.   His  cover for Lakota Dreams has been an effective promotional aspect, as I’ve sold several copies at gift shops and drug stores in South Dakota without having to be there.

The solution my artist seems to be focused on is good.  It is a well-composed piece of art.  It is so good, I went back into the novel and made edits to ensure the reader would understand what the cover is all about.

Hopefully I’ll have the art finalized next week and then Navfac ready for book stores by June 1.

The Direct Approach

January 25, 2011

I don’t consider myself to be aggressive, but after trying to break into the publishing business with something other than self-published novels for a few years has at least motivated me to try the direct approach in chasing success as a writer.  Perhaps it’s the hundred or more rejections I’ve received from prospective agents or publishers that emboldens me.   It is clear that finding an agent or publisher is difficult, even though I’ve sold over 5,000 copies of my novels and have solid reader research which suggests my writing deserve more attention.

So I wrote a letter to John Cusack.  He’d be a good Rhett Sanders in my detective series if made into films.  I sent a copy of Lakota Dreams to Kevin Costner, in care of one of his establishments in Deadwood, S.D.  He’d be a great producer, and I know he shares an affection for the Black Hills featured in my fourth novel.  I was going to try to get Billy Bob Thornton a copy of that novel, having loved his direction of the film, All the Pretty Horses.  But a friend in Hollywood suggested I’d be asking for trouble.  I had a friend in New York who was going to try to get a copy of my books to Regis.  The theory is if I can get a book made into a film or TV production, then book sales would follow.

So far, nothing is working.  But it’s a numbers game so I’ve been told, and I’ll continue to fire off as many shots in all directions as possible.  Agents.  Publishers.  Hollywood types. I’ll target my efforts where I can. But I’ll use this direct approach, maybe just so I can sleep better nights knowing that I wasn’t afraid to try the seemingly improbable.  I can dream…and should dream.

Is it really okay to sacrifice integrity?

May 18, 2010

Recently over dinner, the conversation turned to politics.  While I don’t want to get into that discussion here, I mentioned that our president had made promises during his campaign that he didn’t keep.   That our president tells lies.  I mentioned that there traits in U.S. politics are unfortunately not limited to just the president.   My dinner companiions were supporters — make that avid supporters — of the president — and admitted to the many broken promises and lies, but one man said, “Sometimes you have to sacrifice your integrity to do the right thing.”  There were nods of agreement (but not from me).

Since that conversation I’ve done some thinking about why the sacrificing of integrity has become acceptable to so many people.  I’ve concluded our heroes are partly responsible.   Sports figures have been the culprit.  A coach takes a job at a college, making a commitment to players and future players, and then for a more presigious position or more money, he goes to another school.  He’s rewarded monetarily.  The politicians have also been the culprit; those who lie and still get elected.  They’re rewarded with power and money.  The professional athlete who want to renegotiate a contract and holds out.  He’s rewarded with more money.  The film star, the singer, the businessman who’s unfaithful, rarely pays for sacrificing his or her integrity.   This happens over and opver again, and the media educates us on what it means to sacrifice integrity.  It is demonstrated time and time again that sacrificing integrity means very little in terms of consequences, and too often that sacrificing integrity pays. 

I’m fearful that someday people will be judged as being strong if they sacrifice integrity and be judged weak for demonstrating a firm adherence to a moral code  — Webster’s definitiion of integrity.

On The Road Again

January 12, 2010

My latest novel, Lakota Dreams, is available on Amazon, including for the first time, an electronic version for Kindles.  My hardback copies will be here in a few weeks, which means I’ve got to hit the road again for book signings and other events.  I have mixed feelings about this part of an author’s responsibilities.

I don’t like being on stage, and yet at events and book signings, I usually get many nice comments from friends and strangers.  Also, as a self-published writer, it is the sales of the hardback books that recover my out of pocket costs for printing the books, so it’s necessary.

Without a “real” publisher, and no agent or PR company, I have to arrange the events myself and then promote them.  Sometimes it takes a sales pitch, sometimes a little begging, but I’ve learned which organizatons and stores are friendly to self-published authors so a lot of the task merely involves picking a date and time.

Hastings has been one of those stores that will do anything, and I’ve had multiple book signings on Saturdays at their locations in Conroe, Austin, New Braunfels, Kerrville, Huntsville, Lake Jackson, Victoria.  If I sell ten books, and leave five behind I consider an event a success.  But I’ve had some where I’ve only sold one book.   I’ve never been completely shut out….knock on wood.

The best book signing events have been held at independent stores, especially if I’ve mailed an announcement to a few hundred people.  River Oaks Book Store and Murder by the Book have been good for me in Houston.  Book People in Austin and the Twig in San Antonio have also been productive. In San Antonio my nephew and wife who live there did a mailing for me and it went surprisingly well.

I was able to talk Borders in Houston into carrying my books and having a few book signings.  I sold about a hundred books through Borders, but now they claim a new policy is not to accept self-published authors.  That’s been the rule at  Barnes and Noble, although I will try to get into those stores for Lakota Dreams. 

Some of the most productive events have been luncheons for book clubs and Christmas Shopping boutiques.  Speeches are required at the  luncheons, and with practice I’ve become adequate as a speaker.  It helps that many people admire a person who writes a book.

For Lakota Dreams, I’m planning to market copies to gift shops in the Black Hills.  There are so many stores there selling Native American artifacts with high tourist traffic during the summer.  The book cover by itself should motivate interest.  I might even travel there again.  A benefit of being self-published is that the costs for such trips would be tax deductable expenses.

Part of going on the road is preparing a talk.  I’ve never done a reading, which many authors do, because in a detective novel, I thought the best passages I could read would give away too much of the plot.  I usually gave talks about my writing process, my formula, and my self-imposed guidelines.  But I may do readings this time.    Maybe I’ll read the part where my protagonist, Nate Henderson, goes on a vision quest in the Black Hills.  He’s trying to do what his friends the Lakota Sioux do, and the “scene” tells a lot about him and doesn’t give away any relevant parts of the overall plot. 

What I also might read is something I found in my research.  It was a letter written by Elizabeth Custer (George Armstrong Custer’s wife) which recounts what she and other military wives were doing at the moment her husband and his men from the Seventh Cavalry were fighting the Battle of the Little Big Horn.  It’s a short letter, and very moving.  I do wish I had a voice like James Earl Jones.

Anyway, I’ve got to order some posters, make a ton of telephone calls, and get my mailing lists ready.  In the meantime, I’ll try to continue my marketing research and real estate careers, while working on my fifth novel, the first draft being about sixty percent complete.

Starting a New Novel

November 18, 2009

Okay, I know there are drugs to treat schizophrenia, but is there a drug to create schizophrenia?

My point is this.  I have learned through my creative writing, especially writing novels, that I’m most effective if I can become absorbed with the lead male character, and I do mean absorbed.  For the two years I worked on Lakota Dreams, I spent many hours thinking about the main character, Nate Henderson.  What were his thoughts?  What were his feelings?  What did he want?  What motivated him and what were his fears?  I’d put myself in his situation and gradually I understood everything about him.  I thought about the character while on walks, or alone in bed at three in the morning, or driving around town.  Then when I sat down at my keyboard it was easy to create the story.  A story that took 187,000 words to relate.

Nate was in is early twenties and his story takes place during the early  1870’s.  My new novel with the working title, Navfac, is about half done, and four months ago it was almost half done.  It’s been slow in the creation.  The main character in the new novel is Alex Wolfe, a man about forty years of age.  The year is 1970.   After two years “as” Nate, it’s dificult to be “Alex. 

So I need to come down with a mild case of schizophrenia, because it’s hard to get Nate Henderson out of mind, and I need to focus on Alex Wolfe.  The past few days I’ve consciously tried to kill Nate off figuratively so I can get on with novel number five.  But with Lakota Dreams at the publisher, and working with my artist on the cover, Nate continues to haunt me.  And I know in a month or so, I’ll be heavy into marketing Nate’s story.

I suppose this is one of the many challenges of being a writer.  I’ll fugure it out.

Lying and Creativity

October 8, 2009

When I was very young, word usage seemed to be less caustic.   After I’d offered my mom an an alibi for someting I did or didn’t do, she’d ask, “Andy, are you telling me a story”?.   She never used, “Are you lying.”  Of course when I was caught in a lie, then I was labeled a “story-teller.”   Hmmm.  That’s what I’m trying to do now with my novels and short stories —  be a story teller.

As most young people do, I did challenge the rules I was supposed to obey — about homework, about places not to go, and various other misdemeanors.  When caught, I’d first deny with a simple, “No I didn’t do that.”  But as the youngest of six children, my parents had developed a keen sense of intuition about whether their children were being honest.   Merely denying was not enough to prevent me from being punished.  So I learned that if I was to tell a story, it had better be a good one.   Thus began a part of my creativity. 

I did an effective job of covering up the deaths of my Guinea pigs, the laceration on my sister’s wrist (where there’s still a scar),  the condoms discovered in the pocket of my jeans that were absentmindedly tossed in the laundry, and other juvenile crimes.  But being that kind a story teller, as exciting as it was to be successful in being creative, was unsatisfying.   I knew the truth.  And I think it is just more comfortable (maybe morally right) for both the person providing the words, and the person receiving the words to know whether the words are truth or fiction.

Later, I did learn the value of truthfulness, honesty, and integrity, and have chosen a path based on those principles.  And now as a writer I can openly tell untruths — stories — call them fiction, and nobody who reads my work would call me a liar.  Writing creativity I suppose is a form of lying, but obviously an accepable one.   And with I the writer, and the person who reads my work, both understanding  that the words are fiction, there’s no guilt like there is about those poor Guinea pigs who died over fifty years ago.

Relate or Empathize

October 4, 2009

It is critical that my readers relate to my protagonists, or if not, that they empathize with them.  In my detective novels — the Random Sample Trilogy — I intentionally created characters with experiences that are common to many Americans.  Rhett Sanders is divorced, unfortunately like half of the people living in the U.S.  He is helping to raise a daughter, he has found his work a little too routine and at times uninteresting.  He’s not a professional crime fighter.  He’s hopefully like many of my readers in at least some ways.  Toni Darnell is also divorced, and is a business owner who works hard to keep in shape.  Like many American women her age, she’s had to prove, not only to her own family, that she’s as smart and as proficient as a man.  And Chris Beck is a man who feels compelled to demonstrate his manly qualities, though inside he has a soft heart.   In those detective novels, I remind readers that these people, although deeply involved in perilous investigations of evil doers, are human, that they aren’t perfect, that they have normal fears or neuroses, and that they engage in everyday activities like cooking, going out to a bar, shopping, etc.

I think it is more difficult to relate to characters in my Lakota Dreams, a story that takes place in the 1870’s.  So in this novel, I try to force readers to empathize with the lead characters by sharing their thoughts when good things happen to them, or when they are faced with tragedy.   If readers don’t share common experiences with characters who lived without electricity, rode horses, slept on the ground, etc., then hopefully they share common emotions.

I think the success of a novel, or any endeavor, relies on the degree with which there is empathy and/or relatability.   And for perhaps an unusual segue, I apply this principle with the decreasing popularity of professional sports in America.  While I still watch a lot of sports on television, my interest is not as passionate as it once was, and I blame it on my inabiity to relate with or empathize with the athletes.  I just can’t relate to a 300 pound person, or one that is over seven feet tall, and face it, the majority of players are from a different ethnic culture.   While I  can still admire the physical prowess these athletes demonstrate, the connection is not there.  And when the salaries of these people are publicized, not only can I not relate, I also have a hard time empathizing with them. 

So I continue to write, focusing on the importance of developing characters with whom readers can empathize and relate, and spend less time watching professsional sports, believing that twenty years from now interest in professional sports in America will have vanished completely.