Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fighting Humility

Advertising is hard.  Not because it's hard thinking of clever, eye-catching things to say, but because I was raised to be modest and to avoid bragging on myself.  Here I am trying to put my novels in front of as many readers as possible, and I'm stalled out because I can't bring myself to actually tell people how great they are.
So, step by step, I'm pushing myself into uncomfortable territory.  I've actually sent out a couple of mass emails.  (By mass-mailing, I mean 100 people, all pulled from my address book.)  I've printed a handful of advertising flyers, and then struggled to find places to post them.  I have a pocket full of fancy business cards, but I print them in tens and twenties, because I don't give them out very frequently.
About the only part of this promotion business that comes naturally is this blog.  In many ways, typing into this form is like talking to a friend.  It's comfortable.  But even blogs need promotion to expand their readership, and that brings me back full circle.
I can't brag on myself, not without straining something.
So, I need help.  I need to sell my books.  Getting people to read them is at the top of my priority list.  I know many of you are rooting for my success.  You've told me so.  There are a few ways you can help.
  1. Give me good advice.  I'm a bad salesman.  I need ideas and correction when I make a mistake.  
  2. No book can make it without word of mouth advertising.  If you have friends or relatives that might like Emperor Dad, tell them.  Write down the URL and hand it to them.  http://www.lulu.com/content/967760
  3. If you have read the book, leave a review.  Go to the page I just noted and at the bottom there is a Post a Review link.  As the book comes up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Borders, I'll let you know so you can leave a review there as well.

First Stop

We're on the road to St. Louis for the North American Science Fiction Convention, but first we had to make a stop in Dallas.

Our son Thomas works for an accounting firm and travels extensively.  It's so hard to meet up with him that a bag of his clothes has been traveling a few thousand miles from one city to the next in an effort to get back to him.  So, since he was back from weeks in El Paso, at home in Dallas, we managed to hook up for a few minutes.

He retrieved his bag of laundry and I was able to get him his autographed copy of Emperor Dad.

The novel's main character was very loosely based on Thomas.  Both were football players at Hutto High School, and there were several events in the novel lifted from real life.  So I dedicated the novel to him and I wanted to be sure he had a copy.

Although ... I'm sure he'd want you to know that not every event in the novel was lifted from his life.  About all you can be sure of is that he did have the crowd cheering as he played football, and he didn't teleport over to Paris to avoid seeing a certain cheerleader.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Preparing for Africa -- Passports and Drugs

Our passports expired in May of 2006, so after three attempts to get the renewal forms filled out, we finally put it all together in late March or early April.  The passports finally came back the third week in July, nearly four months later.  We were worried, but now all we have to do is make photocopies as backups.

Today, we picked up our diarrhea and malaria medicines.  All our shots are current, except for one we take in December -- long after we return.  I guess I'll need to make a copy of that yellow immunizations record form as well.

Maybe in a week or so there'll be nothing to look forward to but the actual trip.  That'll be nice.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tools of the Trade

I have several web sites.  Different ones for different purposes.  For my latest effort, the WireRimBooks.com company website, I am experimenting with the Google Apps on-line web composer.  It's not my favorite, but it is a quick way to produce a simple website.  I do have to pop over into Firefox to run their composer, but that's easy enough.  I suspect they'll have Safari support before too long.

In contrast, the HenryMelton.com website is composed using iWeb on my mac and then uploaded to the hosting site.  iWeb gives me a graphically richer set of options, and many more styles to choose from.  However, even with that, there are a few things I need that you can only get by hand-coding.  For example, my Library page has a bookself gadget that is run from an xml data file.  I wrote that snippet before using iWeb and carried it over by adding a post-processing step.

In iWeb's version of the Library.html page, there's a simple marker that is swapped out by a perl program right before I upload the site.  My workflow goes:  edit in iWeb, save to folder, run patchiWeb, run push2site.    The last two programs are custom scripts that edit the composed html files and then use rsync to push the changes to the final location.

The one big advantage of using these two different tools is that the resulting websites look very different.  It helps me keep the two different roles straight in my head.  

Friday, July 27, 2007

Interview Day

This morning was hectic, including getting the RV over to Herbie's (Round Rock Muffler & Automotive) for an oil change and state safety inspection.  Boy, I'm glad I know where to take the monster.  On the road, it's often a chore to find places that will work on RV's.

Then after they were done, I had to clean up for my newspaper interview.  The Hutto News is going to have something about me in a couple of weeks.  Nancy Royden took my picture and we talked for an hour or so about the book and my travels and this and that.  She also asked for Thomas's phone number (Emperor Dad is dedicated to him since the main character was also a Hutto High School football player) which may lead to revelations about my deep dark secrets.

But it was an interesting exercise.  My last newspaper interview (if you don't count the canoe trip) was when I was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist back in high school.  Interestingly, that interview was also about my writing.  Hmm.  I guess things never change.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Highs and Lows

Yesterday, I had two different experiences relating to my new Wire Rim Books.  The first was the UPS delivery guy.  I saw him drive up while I was mowing the back jungle.  I stopped the tractor and walked up.  He came out with a box.
"One package or two?"  I yelled.  He double-checked his list and nodded, going back into the big brown truck for another box.
"You need me to help you with those?"
"No, I've got'em."  
They were the overly-expensive set of books I'll be taking to St. Louis for the NASFiC. 
It seems you can order them quickly, but it costs.  Even if I sell them at full cost, I'll hardly make any money on them.
However, that's not the purpose of these.  I need to get a few copies into the hands of reviewers, book store owners, etc.  
That was the high point of the day.  Later on I drove over to the county courthouse to get "Wire Rim Books" set up as a "Doing Business As" entry in the public records.  While that was a simple and painless exercise, it was just the trigger for more events.  
Mary Ann reported that I've already had my first junk telemarketer trying to sell me Visa and Mastercard services.  She'd been through that herself when she set up her photography business.  Those public records are grist for the data-miners and I'm suddenly on lots of different mailing lists.
Today I registered for my tax id number and have been granted the privilege of filing quarterly government forms for all time to come.
It felt unclean.  This isn't how the world is supposed to work.  I'm supposed to type away in private, creating wonderful stories.  I mail them off and money flows in.  Isn't that the dream?
But I knew this would happen when I decided to publish.  You make your decisions and roll with them.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I Been Webbing

Since the moment my proof copy of Emperor Dad arrived and it was GO for publication, I've been editing and creating web pages right and left.

For one thing, all my pages on HenryMelton.com which refer to the book have had to be updated to point to the click-to-buy location.

But more than that, I've had to make the substantial effort to be a publisher in more than just name. As many of you know, Emperor Dad was to be my experiment in self-publishing. I produced an e-book version a year ago, then added artwork. Then, since I had the text and the cover, why not take advantage of the print-on-demand technology to produce a real live hold-in-your-hand book?

It was a big step for me. I've been writing for 40 years and have steadfastly avoided the publishing side, until recently. I write, it was the other guy's job to publish. Unfortunately, the world has changed. My writing style is sufficiently distinctive that I don't fit in the standard categories. Editors and agents write me these lovely rejection letters, telling me how well I write and how much they personally enjoyed reading the story -- but I don't fit. It began to look as if I were going to have to do some of this myself.

Oh, I haven't totally given up on the idea that Big Name Publications will notice my stories and offer to do a mass market edition, but although I'm still sending out the queries, I'm not going to wait on them. A few readers is better than no readers.

So, as a serious side-line, I've started Wire Rim Books, my publishing imprint, with an Emperor Dad trade paperback as the first offering. In the coming weeks, it will be showing up on the big on-line bookstores, and as I attend NASFIC in St. Louis (really Collinsville) a few days from now I'll be attempting to make independent bookstore contacts.

I invite all of you to visit the new website and I welcome suggestions, especially from you experts out there. If I'm going to do this, I've got to do it right.

Roswell or Bust! is already in the queue.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Back Home to the Jungle

We left Hutto on April 26 and returned on July 8. Things had changed. Extensive rains have given our grass a boost. I guess it's time to get the mover back from our neighbors. But the grass isn't the only thing that's greener than when we left. This morning I bought a couple of hundred dollars of chlorine. I suspect I'll need it all.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Read My Mind

Today is the last day in the mountains. We've spent the night at a little Taos RV park and as soon as I finish breakfast, we'll be heading for Texas.

As I was sitting at the table, doing my morning email/web-browsing, my eye was constantly drawn to the fence that surrounds the campground. I think it's fascinating, but rather than ramble on about why I think it's interesting, I leave it up to you, the reader. Why do I think this fence is worthy of examination, a photo, and a blog posting?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bouncing over Rocks and Breathing Dust

The last few days of the trip in Colorado have been spent trying find mountain wildflowers for Mary Ann to photograph. That means getting in the Jeep and heading high. It's been interesting driving through these old roads, which I'll always call 'Jeep Trails' even though these days the Four-wheelers and trail bikes outnumber the Jeeps quite a bit.

Day one, we went over Cottonwood Pass into Taylor Park, with the intent to go over Tin Cup Pass and return via Chalk Creek.

Ah, Tin Cup Pass. I have fond memories of traveling that extremely rough road in a B300 van, back when I was a lot younger. Honestly, I don't think that's possibile anymore. These old trails, cut back in the gold mining era, haven't been maintained since then. The road was nearly impossible back then. I can't imagine being able to drive it today. Not without four wheel drive. This time, we had to traverse the bad spots twice, since the pass was blocked by a large snow bank.

The next day, we came up the Chalk Creek side to St. Elmo and since Mary Ann was driving, taking an old route she remembers traveling in a regular car back when she was a teenager. Again, the road was much worse now that our hair has lost some color. But some of the old landmarks were still there, like the house that's been on the verge of collapsing onto the road for as long as I can remember.

"Get a photo of that," I said. She shook her head. "The lighting is all wrong." Photographers! I pulled out my point-and-shoot and told her to drive on up under it. "Okay, but you'll have to explain it to Debra if it collapses down on me." I got the shot.

While our insides were thoroughly scrambled from bouncing over the rocks for two days, the third was over in the Crested Butte area, and had it's own troubles. The mountains in that area were weathered slate, not the granite that we'd bounced over before. The rocks had turned to powder, producing a thick soil that was just perfect for wildflowers. Unfortunately, that meant all unimproved dirt roads generated enormous clouds of dust that settled in to the Jeep, covering everything and getting into everything, including eyes and noses. But at least her pictures were good. And that's why we were there in the first place.

The Other Side of the Story

My wife, Mary Ann Melton, is my constant travel companion. While there's been a couple of trips in the last few years where we've gone to different locations, for most of the time, we're at elbow length away. But in spite of that, she does her thing and I do mine. We have different projects and certainly different blogs.

But if you wanted to follow our travels, you have to follow both blogs. Today, over in the sidebar, I've highlighted her blog link with the comment 'The other side of the story', just to make it easier. In fact, if you haven't been reading Mary Ann's View for the past week, you should go take a look. I've been working on other things but she's been churning away, catching up on all those Yellowstone blogs she didn't have time to post on the day she thought of them.