Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Snake Pit

As long time readers know, I have a swimming pool in the back yard, and when the weather turns hot and humid, there's nothing better than a dip in the cool, clear, blue waters.

The problem is that the waters are dark green and opaque. When I lost control of the chlorine and the pool went greenish, it was the same time that my knee put me on the hobble-with-a-cane list. I just let it slide until I could get back some mobility. I knew I'd have to get in there to scrub the pool free of accumulated muck.

Well, my knee is better, thanks to some injections into the joint and I really need the pool for cooling and exercise, so I began the cleaning process.

I knew this one would be different. For one thing, the pool had developed an ecosystem of its own. I had been watching the tadpoles grow, and in some cases, actually sprout legs. But in addition, I had seen a snake swimming in the pool. It was a very timid snake, and quite small. From the stripes on its back, I think it's a Gulf Coast Ribbon Snake, which is non-venomous and harmless. Still, it's not one I wanted to dive in a wrestle with.

Based on Shelly's recommendations, I finally decided to drain the pool for the first time in quite a number of years. The disruption of the ecosystem has triggered a number of changes, the most dramatic of which is the snakes.

Yes, multiple snakes. I have seen four, thus far. One of the larger ones has managed to escape on its own, but the others are trapped in the shrinking body of water. I think it has solved my little puzzle of why I have been seeing smaller numbers of tadpoles than I'd seen before. They keep swimming, looking for a way out, but they are much more frightened of my helpful net than they are of the shrinking pool. Just so long as they don't try to swim down the main drain and into the pump, I'll manage to get them free one way or another. Cute little things.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Mexico Book Tour

Well, I've come home and crashed out for a couple of days and I'm about half way done with dealing with the storm damage, but I realized I haven't really talked about the New Mexico trip, even though I've thought about it quite a bit as I hack and slash through downed tree branches.

The itinerary was roughly a loop. Starting from Amarillo and heading west on I-40, I used by iPhone as a guide, doing a search for 'Bookstore' at each town I passed through. When "Readmore Books" popped up in Tucumcari, I nervously got off the interstate and found the place. But I was too early in the day so I left a flyer in the door and headed on. Santa Rosa said there was a bookstore at an RV campground, but I knew that place from previous trips and again, I was there at the wrong time of day. Things to note: When doing a book tour like this, with no pre-arrangements and drop in visits, business hours were valuable. Considering how many miles I was traveling through the state, awareness of when the stores would open became more important. And as the case of the RV place, not everything Google flagged as a bookstore was likely to be interested in young adult science fiction.

But my original goal had been Las Vegas, and that was coming up. The novel Roswell or Bust, which came out in April, has many chapters taking place in Las Vegas, so I really wanted to let the people of that town, particularly the high school population, know that the book existed. I arrived in town noonish and visited the tourist information places and donated a copy at the library. The big bookstore, "Tome on the Range" was a nice place, and I talked to some of the workers, but my lack of preparation left me with no sales and just a phone number to call back in June. Hey, I tried to contact them early, but as I mentioned in the earlier blog, things just didn't work out. So, with contacts made and flyers left, I called Mary Ann for encouragement and moved on. I knew I should visit Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and of course Roswell, but beyond that, I was just winging it.

Cimmaron, a little town next to the canyon of the same name and the gateway to the famous Philmont Boy Scout camp gave me a much needed boost. I didn't see any bookstores on Google, but there was a "Variety Store" there and on a whim, I stopped and walked in with my little accordion file that contained flyers and each of the books. The manager lady was friendly when I asked if variety included books. It seems that it did, at least a wire rack worth. In fact, when I asked, she took six of the Roswell's.

Bubbly with enthusiasm, I headed on into the Moreno Valley, hoping for a bookstore in the Angelfire ski area. No luck. Maybe there would be in season, but the only Google hit was closed and gone. Oh, well, Taos would have book stores. Over the pass, and with the windshield splattered with frozen rain or snow, I came down into the town just a little too late for business hours. I found a place to eat and sleep and was up finding a parking place in the heart of the tourist area, ready to visit "Moby Dickens" bookstore in the morning. Another nice visit and more flyers left. Even with few sales, I was pleased with this kind of store visit. The store was a place that I could like to spend some time, if I were local, and there was always the chance that they would order something in the future.

Taos had other bookstores as well, but the travel book store would never stock fiction and the used book store owner was friendly, but...mine weren't used. So, on down the road. Espanola had a gift shoppe that took a flyer. Santa Fe and Albuquerque were big cities and that meant that the chains had taken most of the market.

I had already found out that Barnes and Noble had it's rule book and I'd have little chance of placing a book there. I visited a couple of Borders and found the same problems. The larger the chain, the less local control the manager has. Until my books had "Ingram, 40%, returnable", they really didn't want to talk to me. I have Ingram distribution via Lightning Source, but I don't have my books flagged returnable. I understand a bookstore's position, but as a very small, undercapitalized publisher, returns could put me out of business. When I was doing my research prior to becoming a publisher, that was the story I heard from several voices. Large booksellers could drive you into bankruptcy by churning inventory, returning books at the very same time they are ordering more, with the small publisher paying the postage both ways. I know I'm losing sales, but I can't afford unlimited shipping costs that are totally out of my control. So until I get bigger, or something in the industry changes, I'll have to limit my returns to booksellers I meet face to face.

I spent the night at Los Lunas, south of Albuquerque, and found out about the storms the next morning. Mary Ann told me to stay in New Mexico and finish my tour, while she headed home.

Socorro has a little one-man bookstore, the Raven's Quill. I stopped and chatted. He took a copy of Roswell and I turned eastward on highway 380. I'd asked about bookstores when I filled up at Carrizozo, but when I reached Lincoln, I couldn't find it. I was feeling the time, knowing I had to get home soon, so I pushed on to Roswell, skipping Ruidoso and Cloudcroft. Maybe some other trip.

Roswell was surprisingly disinterested in a Roswell-titled book. The surrounding parts of New Mexico were more enthusiastic about it. I visited a couple of stores and moved on. This is part of the Hastings area, and when I arrived in Carlsbad the next morning, I placed ten copies, five of each title, there on consignment. And then when I made it up to Clovis, I did the same there at that Hastings. I have to call each month to check on inventory and I don't get any cash until after the sales, but having the books on the shelf where people can discover them is my primary goal of making these bookstore visits.

After Clovis, I raced back to see if I could visit Tucumcari one more time before heading back to Amarillo. I made it, visiting with the lady there and a little girl. The girl was interested in how I made the books. I wish I had more time to answer her properly, but it was time to move on. Back to Amarillo before sunset to visit my mother again.

In all, I was pleased by the trip. I certainly didn't cover my costs, especially at today's gas prices, but there are now a number of people and bookstores that are aware of my books that hadn't a clue of their existence before. And I have a clearer idea of how bookstores work, and what their concerns are. I think I'll be doing a lot more bookstore visits around home base, and maybe with a little more preparation, I'll put more books in more reader's hands.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Book Tour, Sort of...

Last month, as Roswell or Bust was released, I had the idea that, since the book starts and ends in Las Vegas, New Mexico, I should put together a some kind of promotional event in Las Vegas. I started with the Chamber of Commerce and the bookstore I found on the web, and the school system (since the protagonist was a high schooler). It was a good plan, with a bookstore signing and some kind of school visit.
Unfortunately, it all fell apart. There were email addresses and phone numbers that didn't work. When I couldn't make any contact with the bookstore and the school principal was so tied up in end-of-school-year activities that he was never available when I called, I got the message and put it all on hold. Better to try again in the fall when I'd have more access to the students.

Luckily, that was the right call. My mother's health went down hill and I found myself in Amarillo spending my days in the hospital room when I had envisioned being in New Mexico. Interesting how these things seem to happen.

But now, her health is better and she's getting care to rebuild her strength, and I was no longer needed to sit by her bed. And New Mexico was just a couple of hours away. So, with no plan, no schedule, and no pre-arrangements, I got on I-40 and headed west. With a box or two of books and a stack of book fliers, I'm visiting town after town, looking for bookstores and libraries to visit.

After this first day, it's been moderately successful. I've met people, made contacts, donated a book or two, and sold some where I had little hope of placing them. It's encouraging. I'm in Taos tonight and I'll be visiting bookstores here and then moving south, seeing what I can find. More current updates will happen on Twitter.

Then after a few days, I'll swing back to Amarillo and check on Mother. I hope. One thing I've noticed. Even when the idea is good, never fall in love with your plans, because they never survive.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Each Step is Hard

I'm a writer. I'm a publisher. Since my highest priority titles right now are my own novels, then that makes me a self-publisher. No telling what I'll be publishing two years from now.

However, to publish a book is a massive effort. I wonder if it's any easier for the big New York publishers.

Now, taking your manuscript and getting Lulu or one the other on-line printing services to turn it into a book is actually the easiest part of the process. Yes, you have to format your text differently and to come up with cover art, but I know that it can be done in a week, and have a book in your hand as soon as it can be printed and shipped to you.

But once you have a source of printed books, at a price that people will spend, then what do you do? Nobody knows the book exists. So nobody will buy it.

Here is what I've been fighting for the past several months. I think it's called marketing. I've done a lot of things. Gotten newspaper interviews, sent out press releases, emailed family and friends, blogged about the books, given out free copies to librarians, contacted on-line book review sites, won a book award, and anything else I can think of.

One of the appealing ideas was to get librarians to buy the books for their shelves. My novels are ideal to sit on the shelf near Heinlein's juveniles and attract the same audience. However, it's not easy. The first librarian I talked with said she wouldn't buy any book without a "starred review". I didn't even know what that was. When I discovered that the Texas Library Association had lists of recommended books, I rushed to find out how to get my books considered.

It's complicated. For a book to be eligible for consideration, among other things, it has to have a positive review in a 'scholarly journal'. I emailed and ended up with a list of those. Right off the bat, half of them will not look at self-published works. End of discussion. Of the others, the odds don't look good. In seeking to be one of say a hundred books reviewed per issue, I'm competing with 60,000 books submitted annually. And they will look at self-published worked 'occasionally'. Another review outlet, Kirkus, won't review self-published books, but they will take a few hundred dollars for a paid review in their companion magazine that specializes in paid reviews. Since I have no idea whether the TLA would even consider those, I declined to give them my limited cash.

And today, I was trying to chip away at the barriers set up at another review magazine, which only reviews books from publishers listed in Literary Market Place. I checked. No Wire Rim Books wasn't on the list. I emailed them my info. Back came the answer. Self publishers aren't listed, but we will sell you a listing in our Small Publisher's list. I emailed back, "how much?"

So to sell to libraries, I need to get on a list and have a review from a 'scholarly journal' but those reviews are off limits to self-publishers, mostly.

I'm plugging away, but every step is hard.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

New Horse Blog

I friend of mine has started up a new blog called "Secrets of a Lazy Trainer". I've given it the first three postings and I'm hooked. She's a long time horse owner and trainer, and has lots of experience with animals. I just loved this latest post, about horses and dominance. You can learn so much about the world, just by paying attention to how people and animals interact.