Sunday, April 21, 2019

My Take on the Mueller Report

I encourage everyone to read at least the two executive summaries of the report for yourself. That is what I have read and have based my opinions on. You can get it here.

My take summarized: Trump is wrong when he says “No collusion. No Obstruction.”

Volume I, page 2: “In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion’” The report clearly states that they have no opinion as to whether collusion took place. Therefore, that is left up to us to judge ourselves.

My dictionary defines collusion as: “secret agreement or cooperation for an illegal or deceitful purpose.”

Volume I, page 4: “The [Russian IRA] campaign evolved from a generalized program designed in 2014 and 2015 to undermine the US electoral system, to a targeted operation that by early 2016 favored candidate Trump and disparaged candidate Clinton.”

Volume I, page 5: “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in tis election interference activities.”

The report lists many contacts between the Russians and the Trump Campaign during the election campaign and after the election during the transition period. The report clearly established that the Trump Campaign knew about the Russian activities and did nothing to prevent them, and obviously benefited from them. They told no one and, as Volume II shows, actively attempted to keep the truth from investigators and the public.

That meets my definition of collusion.

Volume II, page 8: “… if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

It sounds to me like they are saying he got off on a technicality – a technicality that the Justice Department created that says a sitting president cannot be indicted. Clearly, he is not truly exonerated.
I still wonder why the Russians perceived they would benefit from a Trump presidency. Clearly Russia has enjoyed more freedom of action and influence in world affairs since Trump was elected, so perhaps the Russian's assessment was correct.

I’m not a lawyer. I’m just applying what I believe is a common sense reading of the executive summaries. I also acknowledge that no one gives a crap what I think about the Mueller report, but I wanted to put this online anyway and get on the record.

Read it. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I Write Short Stories! What About Me?

Books, books, books. That’s all we ever talk about on this blog! What about the short form writers? The ones who struggle to craft short blog posts, essays, flash fiction and other short story formats – what about them? 

I thought the confluence of two things would create a renaissance for short form writers: the declining attention span of today’s readers and ebooks. I want to believe. But, I cannot find any recent data to support my belief. 

It’s a tough world for short form writers. How do you get compensated? Blog posts get your work out into the world, but getting a readership is really difficult and takes quite a bit of time. Plus, how do you monetize it? If you want to write short form work for a living – well that’s a tough road. Especially if you write fiction. I thumbed through the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market in the library the other day. Some magazines that take short fiction pay, but not much money: $10 - $50. Most short fiction markets pay in copies. It also appears (and this is not an exhaustive, scientific survey of the marketplace) that most of these short fiction magazines focus on literary fiction, so if you are a writer of genre fiction your chances of publication (and receiving copies of the magazine that I’m sure you can take to your local supermarket and use to purchase lettuce) are even slimmer. 

I still want to believe. Perhaps we just haven’t tried hard enough. The Kindle marketplace does have a category for short fiction. All three of my fiction ebooks are part of that category, called Kindle Shorts. They divide up the works into buckets representing time to read: 15 minutes, 30, 45, 60, and 90. I assume which category your work falls in is based on pages. My book, Deliveryman, is in the 30 minute category at 16 page. Guns, Bourbon and Kitten Videos, at 27 pages, was put in the 45 minute bucket. Lite Reads, my monster epic at 36 pages, was placed into the 60 minute slot. I didn’t do this. I can’t load my book into KDP and put it in the Kindle Shorts category. KDP does that. 

The prices of Kindle Shorts are all over the map. In the categories where my books reside the vast majority are between $0.99 and $2.99. All three of mine are $1. I aspire to become the Dollar Store of short fiction! 

My bottom line: Why let your short work sit in a drawer? If you’ve written some good stories, or essays, and they don’t fit some MFA’s requirements for some foo-foo literary journal (think I have an opinion here?), then format it as an ebook and get it out into the world! It’s not hard to format an ebook. You can design a simple cover yourself or use KDP’s cover creator. Keep your expenses low and maybe, just maybe, you’ll break even. What do you have to lose? 

I’ve linked some articles I came across in my research. They are years old; I can’t find anything recent talking about short work on Kindle. And, a couple of them may discourage you from trying! (Repeating: what do you have to lose?)

* * * 
“Yes, book page lengths have dropped by some 5% since the first introduction of KU [Kindle Unlimited - KM] last year. However, the trend started way before that. Average book page lengths in the top seller lists are still clearly above 250 pages for most high-selling genres.” 

* * * 

* * * 
"Longer books sell better on Amazon, but short reads sell too, and earn more per page. So you could focus on writing short books, write them much faster than long books, and still make money."

* * * 
“'The thing about short fiction is that it doesn’t really pay,' Swanwick says in Episode 222 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. 'For the amount of time that I’ve put in on these stories, I probably have not earned back—even with the collection—minimum wage.' 
'It’s really a bad idea to write something new at novel length, because you don’t know whether you can do it or not,” Swanwick says. “But you can risk a short story, and if it works in a short story, you know that you can take it to novel length.'” 

* * * 
"In a novel, you're stuck with whatever narrative structure you've selected for that particular novel. So I think you can learn how to write a lot faster, the basic core capabilities you need if you're writing short fiction than in a novel. 
And the other benefit is, as you finish the story, you send it out to market. And you start to get feedback. And if it's rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, you probably need to keep writing. You haven't developed your craft enough, although we can talk more about, you know, what's a reasonable number of rejections later on."

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Three Prerequisites for Indie Publishing Success

From my book, Book Formatting Demystified:

  • Story and editing
  • Cover
  • Blurb

Story & Editing

The element, story and editing, is entirely in the hands of the author. You are solely responsible for the content of your book. This is where you should spend the bulk of your time and money. Find a good editor. Editors come in various flavors: structural, line and proofreaders. Some writers use multiple editors. Some writers, particularly more experienced writers, know their weaknesses and employ editors to overcome their specific areas of concern.


You need a great cover. In the old days, when we shopped in bookstores, we wouldn’t normally see the cover. All we might see is the spine of the book. However, if the title caught our eye, the cover was next. Today, since most books are sold online, we see the entire front cover, so they are more important than ever. Don’t do it yourself. Writers, in my experience, tend to design a cover that depicts the book. That isn’t the same as a cover designed to sell the book. Hire an experienced cover designer.


The book’s blurb is that copy on the back of a paperback that is meant to intrigue us, make us so interested in the story that we buy the book. Not only does this appear on the back of the printed book, it also will appear on the Amazon listing for your book. As with the cover, don’t do it yourself. The same concept applies here as with the cover: writers write blurbs that are almost a synopsis of the book, but lack the copy that will sell the book. Find an experienced copywriter, someone who has experience writing ads, and get them to do it. It will probably cost you, but it will be money well spent.


Note that what I do, formatting, is not on here. Nothing you or I do in formatting will help sell more books. Nothing. No one ever picked up a book and said “Cool font. I’m buying this book!” or “Look at these drop caps. I’ve got to buy this book!” However, formatting is important because you can lose sales due to sloppy or amateur formatting. I’ve seen reviews, primarily about Kindle formatting, that I believe probably put some people off those books. Your primary goal with formatting should be to keep your costs as low as possible and spend the money saved on the three bullet points listed above.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Publishing Odds & Ends: Google Play, Giveaways?, Beware of Another Indie Author Ripoff

D2D Can Get You in Google Play

Draft2Digital has added Google Play Books to its list of ebook distribution outlets. If you have decided to go wide rather than stick with KDP exclusively, you owe it to yourself to check out Draft2Digital!
“Google Play Books sells ebooks in 70 countries around the world, and thanks to their previous problem with piracy they are notoriously difficult to get into. It is good to have another way in.”
Read the entire article from The Digital Reader.

Give Your Writing Away for Free?

Why do we feel we have to give our books away to sell books? Do you see giveaways at Target for anything? Did Tesla give cars away in the beginning because they were an unknown in the auto industry in the beginning? I sure don’t remember that. I think authors give too much away for too little. You get copies of the literary journal you submitted to as compensation for your short story? That’s lame. They charge a bundle for those journals at Barnes & Nobel – I don’t see them giving them away for no cash!
“One argument I see regularly in various book groups is, ‘I won’t pay full price for a book by an author I don’t know’. 
I often wonder if those people try that same argument at the cinema. ‘I’ve never seen anything by this director so can I have a cheap seat? If I like it, I may come again to see other films.’ Or perhaps at a restaurant. ‘Zebra steak? That sounds good, but I’ve never eaten if before so can I have it free/cheap because if I like it I may come again.’”
Read the entire article from the Self Publishing Advice website..

Authors Being Ripped Off Again

Read the fine print. Make sure your publisher isn’t claiming that the copyright for the edited book belongs to them!
“It's not standard industry practice. No reputable publisher that I know of, large or small, deprives the author of the right to re-publish the final edited version of their book, either in its contracts or upon rights reversion.”
Read the entire article from Writer Beware!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Book Review: Book Business: Publishing, Past, Present, and Future

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book to read now. It was published in 2001 and Epstein got some things right, some things wrong. I don’t think he saw how Amazon would come to dominate the book selling business. And, I think the jury is still out regarding his optimism as it relates to our ability to sort out the good stuff from the bad.
“The critical faculty that selects meaning from chaos is part of our instinctual equipment, and so is the gift for creating and recreating civilizations and their rules without external guidance. Human beings have a genius for finding their way, for creating goods, making orderly markets, distinguishing quality and assigning value. This faculty can be taken for granted. There is no reason to fear that the awesome diversity of the World Wide Web will overwhelm it. In fact, the Web’s diversity will enlarge these powers, or so one’s experience of humankind permits one to hope.”

I did find his take on the decline of publishing, pre-Amazon, interesting. This is an angle I had not considered. It might be considered elitist by today’s standards, but I do believe it has merit.
“Our industry was becoming alienated from its natural diversity by an increasingly homogeneous suburban marketplace, demanding ever more uniform products. Books are written everywhere but they have always needed the complex cultures of great cities in which to reverberate. My publishing years coincided with the great postwar dispersal of city populations and the attrition therefore of city bookstores as suburban malls increasingly became the centers of commerce, so that even the well-stocked chain bookstore branches located in cities evoke the undifferentiated atmosphere of shopping malls rather than the cosmopolitanism of the cities to which they happen to have been transplanted.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Publishing Odds & Ends: Marketing Strategy vs. Tactics, Good News About Book Sales

Here is a good article about book marketing. Don’t rush in and jump on the latest marketing gimmick bandwagon. Come up with a strategy to reach your users and only use the marketing tactics that will add to your particular strategy; skip the ones that don’t.
"Before considering new marketing tactics and platforms, authors should focus on understanding their goals and assessing their resources.

… the more you’re focused on your own long-term outcomes and how to wisely use your time and resources, the better prepared you’ll be to consider or experiment with new tactics, adopting or discarding them as you see fit."
Read the entire article.

* * *

Here is some good news about readership! Recently I wrote that print-book bigots annoy me when they celebrate ebook sales declines. However, it’s equally annoying when ebook bigots try to minimize print book accomplishments. All indie publishers, and all writers, should be pleased when more written works are sold – regardless of the format.
"The Association of American Publishers has published its annual revenue report for the 1,375 publishers who submit their revenue data to the AAP. This info is not to be confused with sales data or the sum total of the US book market, although it will likely be misconstrued that way.

Publisher revenue rose $342 million last year, to $7.49 billion. While on the one hand 5% growth rate looks awesome, a closer look shows that most of that growth was due to increased sales of audiobooks and hardback books."
Read the entire article.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Walk Around Batavia, Illinois: March 23, 2019

I decided to spend some time on Saturdays taking pictures. The weather was wonderful today, so I walked around town.

Batavia Depot Pond

Gazebo outside the Batavia Historical Museum

One of the painted Batavia Bulldogs around town

The Peace Bridge over the Fox River

Looking north from the Peace Bridge: the old Challenge Windmill factory

Looking south down the Fox River

Looking north up the Fox River - the dam is in the distance

Looks like this section of the bike path won't be used much today

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Indie Publishers: Find Your Niche!

Indie publishers have to find their niche. Your readers are out there and your job is to find them and interact with them. One of the biggest problems with indie publishing is you are unknown – the potential readers don’t know your book exists.

Think small and specialized. You don’t need a lot of readers to do well. Your niche does not have to be millions of people. If you had 2,000 devoted readers you could do all right if you write enough books!

Spend the time to figure out who your reader is and where, online, they might reside. For example, one of my clients writes cozy mysteries and the titles are all based on food. In fact, the author includes a recipe in the back of each book! So, I went on to Google and searched “cozy mystery and baking.” In less than a minute I found two websites, both with lists of cozy mystery series related to baking and culinary topics. Obviously, she should be on those lists. Sometimes it’s not hard to find potential groups of readers. More often it is difficult and takes time. Once you find a group, participate! Contact the website owners; comment on posts – get involved. How else will your name, and eventually your books, get known? Here are some articles on the topic:
"Thus, before we hop onto the latest marketing/promotion fad we’re wise to understand why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. Books are not like cups of coffee or breakfast cereal, and thus require a different approach.

Yes, ads, marketing and promotion campaigns sell toilet paper, soap, and toothpaste because seriously…who is NOT USING this stuff? When it comes to influencing what folks do with their free time, however, it’s a whole other game.

Reading for pleasure has been steadily declining since the 1980s, and now that our culture is firmly entrenched in the new digital paradigm, this number is dropping off…a cliff. Back in 2004, roughly 28% of Americans over the age of 15 read for pleasure. As of 2017, that number was down to 19%, and for good reasons.

There’s Netflix, Fortnite, YouTube, Instagram, Tinder, and Candy Crush. Also, the final season of Game of Thrones in April—Spring is Coming—and we need to refresh our memories and who exactly all three hundred four characters are. Right?

Alas, what frustrates so many authors (and traditional marketing/advertising/PR people who still think it’s 1997) is that social media is the modern version of ‘word of mouth.’ Unlike direct marketing, social media efficacy can’t be precisely measured or controlled.

The more niche we can become, the less competition we have to outmaneuver and outdo."
Read the entire article.

* * *

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Way to End Corruption:

This isn't about publishing. It's about ending corruption in our government. It's about truly draining the swamp in Washington and our state capitals. Please take the time to watch this. Thank you.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Book Review: I, Lucifer

I, LuciferI, Lucifer by Glen Duncan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great book. I really enjoyed it. Lucifer is funny, flawed and just as messed up as all of us. The book has a real cynical grasp of human nature and is full of funny lines:

"Astonishingly gorgeous people are rarely good, for the simple reason they don't need to be. Hell's absolutely stuffed with the souls of ex-stunnas and hunks, whereas Heaven's been in a more or less perpetual state of talent-famine since human beings first started biting the dust. "

I liked this line too:

"Hell is two things: the absence of God and the presence of time. Infinite variations on that theme."

Nicely done.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Publishing Odds & Ends: Planning vs. Not Planning, Book Sales Up

I ran across a couple of blog posts that I found interesting.

First, Jane Friedman talks about the myth of planning vs. pantsing. I am attracted to the concept of outlining and planning, but I rarely actually do it - which is pretty much what her article says.
"Plotting versus pantsing is one popular version of the plan first/write later myth. This myth basically would have you believe that generating ideas, planning, writing, redrafting, submitting and publishing happen sequentially, in that order, in a linear fashion.

The myth also has its mirror image, the idea that there are some writers out there (for some reason I’m picturing them with flowing scarves) who simply cannot plan first and must write a draft then turn it into a novel. To me, this mirror image (although it’s the opposite) is simply part of the same story."
Read the entire article.

* * *

This article angered me a little because the author conflates reading with physical books. It’s as if reading on something besides paper is not valid. If ebook sales were decreasing (they are not), it’s not because people are switching to paper, it’s more likely that they’ve stopped reading books altogether. There is too much crap out there, both in print and ebook formats. E reader sales are down? That's not a problem. People are reading on other devices. I get angry when print-book bigots feel gleeful when they read bad news (usually incorrect news) about ebook sales. We should be pushing for more readers, whether paper, ebooks or stone tablets! Nonetheless, there is good news in this article for indie publishers, and in the first paragraph I quoted a valuable perspective.

"Not long ago, I came across an article with the headline “Reading is a rapidly depleting form of entertainment,” which cited recent findings from Pew Research Center that 24% of Americans didn’t read a book in 2017. Now, what I saw was that 76% of Americans did read a book.

The American Booksellers Association, which promotes independent bookstores, says its membership grew for the ninth year in a row in 2018. Sales of physical books have increased every year since 2013, and were up 1.3% in 2018 compared to the previous year." 
Read the entire article.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Why Your Amazon Book Reviews May Disappear

I wrote a review of Ray Ziemer’s book, The Ghost of Jamie McVay, for Goodreads and Amazon on March 7th. I received an email from Amazon on the 7th that said my review had been accepted and that it was live. There was a link to the review, which unfortunately I did not click. Today I went to see if the book had received any more reviews (a friend of mine indicated she reviewed it and I wanted to see her review), but there were no reviews – mine, if it was ever there at all, was no longer showing. (My Goodreads review is still there.) I know that Amazon has a policy that family members or close friends cannot write reviews for your books. But, how do they know? It’s a secret, but the articles linked below speculate that Amazon is scouring our social media accounts to determine who knows who. I am friends with Ray on both Goodreads (Amazon owned) and Facebook. This may have doomed my review.

We’re being penalized for developing a network! All the so-called gurus tell us that authors have to be on social media, that the more “likes” we get and the more “friends” we accumulate the better our books will sell. It seems that strategy, as it applies to reviews, works against us.

I don’t have an answer here. It’s frustrating. The only thing I can offer at this point is to review books on Goodreads for authors who you may be connected to on social media. I looked at the Goodreads review guidelines and there is restriction on friends posting reviews. At least Goodreads reviews, for now, don’t get taken down if you have some online relationship with an author.

* * *
“We don't allow individuals who share a household with the author or close friends to write Customer Reviews for that author’s book.”
From Amazon’s Customer Reviews Guidelines Frequently Asked Questions from Authors

* * *
“Amazon knows who your writer friends are and no, you can't post reviews for them. 
Amazon somehow knows people you know personally or as acquaintances is troubling. And that Amazon keeps how it knows this under a pall of secrecy is even more troubling, especially when there's nothing in its privacy policy that explicitly addresses this.”
Read the entire article on

* * *
"If you interact with an author in any way online, beware: Amazon might decide that you’re 'friends' and ban you from leaving a review of their latest book.

But how does Amazon work out their definition of 'friends'? It looks likely to remain a closely-guarded secret."
Read the entire article on The Guardian.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Book Review: The Ghost of Jamie McVay

The Ghost of Jamie McVayThe Ghost of Jamie McVay by R.G.  Ziemer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Ghost of Jamie McVay is a great read. As the back of the book says: Brian has problems. He has to adjust to a new town and school. His father is an unemployed drunk. His neighbor is a pyromaniac bully. All these problems combine with a ghost who was involved in a gruesome train wreck in an intriguing and quick-moving plot. The book is categorized as young adult, but I feel it has appeal to a wider range. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Email Marketing for Authors

Authors, both indie and traditionally published, face the same challenge: getting the word out, letting the potential readers of your work know it exists. The challenge there is made far more difficult because there are so many writers. How do you stand out? How can you cut through all the noise and get noticed? Here are a couple of articles about e-mail marketing that might help.

"An email list is your secret weapon for selling books—it is a direct connection to your reader."
Read the entire article from Jane Friedman.

* * *
"First, we need to identify the problem, and the problem is (mostly) that no one is opening your emails. If no one opens, no one clicks. If no one clicks, then no one buys. Getting the subscriber to open the email absolutely has to happen before you can deem your email campaign a success or a failure.

Consider this, email open rates are down across industries, and the reason for it is because there’s far too much noise in readers’ inboxes. That’s why email marketing for authors doesn’t work. BUT, and it’s a big but – 80% of retail professionals indicate email marketing as the single biggest driver of customer retention. Plus, email subscribers will spend an average of 128% more on products than customers who do not receive emails from a business. And if you’re really looking for exposure, email subscribers are 3X more likely to share content on social media than people who are not on your email list.

… you need to think about how you can cut through your subscriber’s inbox noise and gain their trust. They need to see you as not another boring author who just wants to hock their own eBooks.

79% of customers prefer watching a video about a product compared to reading about a product.

By 2020, 80% of content consumed online will be in the form of videos. It’s what your viewers are going to expect in the near future.

Companies that experiment with interactive content marketing strategies see their conversions improve up to 28% within a mere two weeks." 
Read the entire article by Lucille Moncrief.

A couple more: