Saturday, May 21

Dropping Stories: Ten Threads As A Kindle Exclusive

The last two years have been among the hardest — a series of unrelated wretched events with the dark cloud of the pandemic looming in the background. You know the cloud. We all do. It blotted out the sun. 

The start of all our trouble didn't begin with it. It started with our home being invaded and cars stolen. Mine, a 20-year-old Infiniti G20, was nearly totaled. 

Who am I kidding? I spent $6,000 or more to fix a car worth half as much. It was totaled. But the very idea that someone could take away something I've taken care of for 20 years was too much. So I didn't accept it and had it fixed. 

The pandemic rolled over us all a few months later, and I didn't have anywhere to go anyway. If I could have gone somewhere, it would have been to southern Arizona, where my paternal grandmother lost her cognitive ability. Adult protective services estimated we had a few months to figure it out.  

We really didn't. By the time the guardianship papers were processed, one of those family villains that everyone seems to have swept in with a story that nobody believed except one misguided attorney. The stress of the guardianship battle nearly killed us. We survived, but my grandmother did not. She died two weeks before the court investigator filed a formal report in my favor, forcing us into another battle for the estate. 

We won. And we lost. The villain took almost all of the bank accounts while the court allowed me to manage the dilapidated property she called home. We're still mitigating it today, more than a year later.

It's true, you know. After a while, you become numb to bad news. Six months after losing my grandmother, we lost my stepdad's best friend, someone we long considered part of the family. And six months after that, we lost my stepdad too. I'll spare the details except to say it wasn't sudden — unless you count those last few weeks that played out like months in slow motion as sudden. I'm still reeling from it.

So what does that have to do with a book release?

Nothing. And everything. 

Someone once told me "never let bad days fool you into thinking you have a bad life." It's too easy to do. I've had plenty, more than my share. Some of them I invited. Some came along anyway. 

You wouldn't think so if you met me in person. I generally present light-hearted most of the time, and intensely passionate about everything for the rest of it. It's called coping. You find every shining moment you can and you squeeze it for every ounce of sunshine it might give you.

My debut, 50 States, was one of those moments. It took some time but, eventually, word of mouth helped propel it to become a top 100 bestselling literary short stories collection on Amazon for three consecutive months — an honor compounded with two book awards. The first was first place for short stories in the Spring 2022 BookFest Awards. The second was first place for literary fiction, psychological thrillers, and short stories in the ABR Book Excellence Awards.

Of course, 50 States wasn't my only shining moment. I'm honored to work with some great clients. I was reappointed to serve my city as a parks commissioner. My wife was promoted, twice. My children are brilliant. My daughter finally achieved a 4.0 GPA while becoming one of the top softball players in the state. My son just recently graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. That was my school, too. 

So I've been squeezing all of these things for every ounce of light they shed (along with all those smaller, seemingly insignificant things too). It's something that my maternal grandmother, the one who raised me for ten years while dying of cancer, taught me before she died. You take whatever comes, catching hold of even the tiniest sunbeams to break the gloom. It's the only way to survive it all. It's the only way to thrive.

Ten Threads is a ten-story companion to my best-selling, award-winning debut. Published as a Kindle exclusive, it can be read as a stand-alone anthology of about 100 pages or as a continuation of stories found in 50 States. Specifically, this release features stories set in Idaho, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Pennsylvania, California, Vermont, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky. 

If you read the debut, eight stories will feel like continuations. Two of them, while connected to their counterparts, aren't as strongly linked. Collectively, the stories feel like life. Nine parts darkness and one part light, which is why I dedicated it to my maternal grandmother, Helen. She is forever my sunbeam. Nobody squeezed me tighter. Good night and good luck.

Want a more straightforward book release update? Yes, you can find that too. It's in the news.

Monday, April 11

Writing Analysis: Who Do You Write Like?


Last December,  I was invited to submit my collection of short stories to ScoreIt!, an algorithm that compares stylistic distinctions to a library of books by other authors. The purpose of doing so might not be what you think. 

I wasn't interested in the analysis simply as a means of comparison because reviewers had already compared 50 States to various authors. Two of my favorites were provided by the IndieReader and OnlineBookClub. 

"Written in sparse, understated prose reminiscent of Elizabeth Strout’s ‘Olive Kitteridge,' Becker’s tightly focused stories pack a punch."— IndieReader 

"The author's storytelling bore a resemblance to the style of the acclaimed Russian short storyteller Anton Chekhov in brevity and addressing salient issues of human existence." — OnlineBookClub

You can't get much better than that. So why try ScoreIt! by Inkubate?

The premise behind ScoreIt! was to develop a comparative algorithm similar to those used by Apple, Spotify, and Pandora for musicians and songs, and apply it to authors and books. So, in theory, readers who like the style of one author will likely enjoy closely matched authors. 

For the author, it means ScoreIt! provides promotional connections and keyword insights that are almost impossible to imagine without. This was true for me. The algorithm cited two authors (usually, it cites three) that I would have never considered being similar (even after taking an online class by one of them).

According to ScoreIt!, the writing style in 50 States has characteristics most similar to David Baldacci (thrillers) and Heather Graham (romance) across vocabulary, expressive complexity, grammar, and tonal quality. This might seem like an odd combination for anyone familiar with both authors (or the genres), but not to me. Although broadly defined as literary fiction, about half of the stories in 50 States are thrillers, and several have romantic undertones (even if they aren't explicitly romance stories).

How to apply the ScoreIt! analysis. 

In speaking with Don Seitz, CEO of Inkubate, the best practice for debut authors is to review how similar authors market their books in terms of keywords, adjectives, and descriptors. By doing so, it is more likely those types of readers will discover your book and, more importantly, appreciate your writing style once they do. This will eventually lead to better reviews by people predisposed to like the work. 

One of my takeaways from the analysis was to mention more short thrillers from the book in its store description. The original description called out three of the 50 stories, only one of which was a thriller. The revision called out four stories, with two being thrillers (and one being a favorite of a Kirkus reviewer). Along with this change, it made sense to punch up the suspense and unpredictability of the work.

These changes eventually helped attract more attention to the book and contributed to 50 States breaking into the top 100 literary fiction short story bestsellers on Amazon in January — a milestone repeated in February and March — just before it received a first-place award for short stories from The BookFest.

Signing up For ScoreIt! by Inkubate. 

Look, I'm not certain all of my new readers are also Baldacci readers, but I did notice more readers who enjoy thrillers are picking up the anthology. In turn, they provide insight into better marketing based on the words they chose to describe the book: gripping, suspenseful, impactful, and poignant. 

I was originally introduced to ScoreIt! by Barnes & Noble Press but had also seen the service promoted by Bowker Identifier Services (ISBN brokers). Running the analysis on your work is an investment of about $100 (and there are multiple plans that cost more). The cursory plan includes a comparison between the book submitted and three bestsellers (usually by three different authors), search term suggestions, and an optional consultation with Don Seitz, CEO of Inkubate (for a limited time). You can sign up here

While I already understood the value of the findings, I did speak with Don to clarify a few points. Most importantly, I wanted to know if the algorithm considered the entire work or simply the sample provided. Don assured me that the whole book was considered in the analysis. 

We also spent considerable time discussing trends in publishing, how important it is for debut authors to find the right readers (as opposed to any readers), and how to better pinpoint what readers use as search terms when looking for their next read — topics that many debut authors never consider until well after writing their novels. I'm a bit different in having worked in marketing and communication for decades.

Overall, ScoreIt! is worth it for authors looking to fine tune their marketing efforts, especially on storefronts like Amazon. It's especially useful for improving the description, adding more keywords, and building some Amazon ads. It's not as useful, in my opinion, to use it for bragging rights. I enjoy Baldacci as an author, but prefer to think of my style and stories as my own. 

Of course, if someone who grabs a copy of 50 States is a Baldacci or Graham fan, I would be very interested in finding out what they think. Writing is, after all, a relationship between authors and readers. Good night and good luck.

Friday, February 11

Telling Stories: Voice Actor Brian Callanan


There’s a June event in West Seattle where hundreds of kids and parents turn out to run a 5k race and obstacle course — climbing over walls and crawling through mud. Think of it as a community-minded version of Tough Mudder or the Spartan Race that doubles as a fundraiser for Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

The event is called Loop the ‘Lupe because participants run a 1k course with seven obstacles — everything from spider webs to a squirt gun alley — five times. There is plenty of post-run entertainment too, live music and a beer garden, organized in part by the efforts of someone who has always seen success as a marathon. 

“After taking post-graduate courses at San Francisco State University, I couldn’t wait to jump into the world of television broadcast news in 1995,” explains Brian Callanan, event organizer. “I worked my way up from smaller markets like Roseburg, Oregon before breaking into a bigger market like Seattle and eventually joining The Seattle Channel in 2011. I’m glad I made that decision. I’ve been able to report on a variety of important local issues and connect with the area’s top political decision makers.”

His work has also garnered five Emmys in television broadcasting, a distinction Brian is quick to share with anyone and everyone who is part of the teams that made it happen. Listening to Brian talk about how he broke into broadcasting becomes a familiar story, too, even when he isn’t talking about TV journalism. All of his accomplishments started small. 

“I always wanted to get involved in voice acting, and I finally connected with my friend David H. Lawrence XVII,” says Brian. “He and Dan O’Day helped me learn how to record myself for audiobook work, but also how to edit my work and promote it.” 

So what started as a side hustle quickly turned into something bigger. Within the last seven years, Brian has narrated close to 80 books across all genres — from adventure and science fiction to nonfiction and romance. Generally, he takes on one title a month, which he says is a manageable pace. 

“My career took off when I narrated a noir thriller called ‘The Last Watchman Still Rides,’” says Brian. “It required a first-person, tough-guy narrator that a lot of authors need in a narrator. It works because while I’m a big fan of all kinds of books and don’t want to be typecast, noir thrillers are some of my favorites.”

On the tech side, Brian says he records and edits using the Studio One platform, with iZotope software for audio mastering, on an ASUS solid-state-drive laptop. The laptop has been a stalwart performer, especially because it runs without fans that could disrupt his performance. He also uses an AT2020+ microphone and highly recommends the course he took to break into the business, the ACX Masterclass. 

“Early on, I had one author who kept adding chapters to his book while I was in the process of narrating it. Those kinds of situations can get a bit tense,” said Brian. “But I’ve been fortunate to work with authors and rights holders who are very understanding. Mostly, I tend to avoid books that call for lightning-fast deadlines and narrators with foreign accents.” 

That might surprise some listeners given that his latest project, 50 States (my book), is a collection of short stories that called for hundreds of characters and scores of accents from all over the world. And, since the stories are not confined to a single genre, Brian had to approach each one with a fresh perspective.

“The main challenge of 50 States was simply re-setting and re-studying the needs of each story as I paused between them,” said Brian. “I had to take some longer breaks than usual just to get into a different mode of thinking about them.”

The challenge was worth his initial attraction to the project. The result is a collection of stories that have an outstanding serial quality to them.

“I liked the nod to the collective trauma we’ve been going through with ‘A Hole in the Wall,’ the sweetness of ‘Forget Me Nots,’ and the grittiness of stories like ‘The Best Life’ and ‘The Siren’s Call,” he said. “There’s a ton of good action in this book, along with some great moments to ponder. I’m excited to see what listeners think of it!”

Fortunately, this was one time Brian didn’t have to wait long. It only took a few days before Victor Dima, publisher of The Audiobook Blog, called out Brian’s performance as “absolutely incredible how many different characters he can bring to life and make them feel unique.” Dima gave the book a perfect 5 stars for the stories and narration.

In some ways, Dima’s review feels like a fitting finish line for the project Brian tackled one story at a time like every marathon he’s ever run. It doesn’t even matter how you want to use the metaphor. Brian is a broadcaster, emcee, auctioneer, community supporter, volunteer, family man, triathlete, and member of a rock band called The Superchargers. 

“I’m training for a half-marathon in March that one of my daughters dared me into,” says Brian. “We’ll see how it goes!”

I’m sure it will be a success. And, if nothing else, the perfect warmup for Loop the ‘Lupe in June. Good luck!


Saturday, January 22

Breaking 100: 50 States As A Bestseller

When I set my book sale schedule weeks ago, I knew mid-January 2022 would be special for 50 States. What I didn't realize was that the Kindle edition was going break the Top 100 Literary Short Stories

A few days after just bouncing around below the watermark — #189, #105, #168, #406 — 50 States suddenly came in a few places behind Stephen King, right next to Thomas Wolf and Ray Bradbury, and a couple of spots ahead of James Joyce. It was ranked #82 (subsequently ranked up and down between #89 and #64 at the time of this writing). It was a pretty amazing moment, with my wife excitedly telling me to grab a scene shot — as if seeing it listed there was a digital mirage or practical joke. Oh, I did. Several. 

It caught me by surprise, a very pleasant one. There were still a few things I expected to have in place. One of them was to sort out the various editions. So, I thought I might do this today for anyone curious. 

50 States - Print Editions 

First Edition / Gray Book (ISBN: 978-1006811159) - I affectionately call the first edition the gray book because, unlike newer editions, the back cover and spine are gray. Some standout elements are the gloss cover, graphic chapter dividers, and original book blurb. The book originally retailed for $16.99, but publishing costs forced me to raise the price to $18.99. Since the price is printed on the back cover, I decided to sunset this edition. There are still some copies out there and I have a few dozen on hand. Blurb is often listed as the publisher, but not on the book. The page count is 358. $16.99/$18.99 depending.

Spark Edition / Hardcover (ISBN: 9798985381122) - After a quality press check with a different printer, I turned to Ingram like many authors. This edition is a classic cloth hardcover with a dust jacket. The back cover features five of its early reviews on the cover and the revised book blurb on the flap. It's a very well-done book that looks sharp with a black back cover and spine. There are no graphic chapter dividers, but the paper is thicker and the font slightly larger. The page count is 378. This is the edition you'll find anywhere books are sold. Retail $34.99

Spark Edition / Trade Paperback (ISBN: 97989853811390) - With the grey book being sunset, it made sense to produce a new paperback edition with Ingram. The inside mirrors what you'll find in the hardcover edition, except with slightly thinner paper. Despite being 20 more pages than the grey book, its spine profile is thinner (but the paper is still strong). It also includes some early reviews on the back, along with a truncated book blurb and two-line bio. It's very well done, as good as any book on the market. This is the new edition you'll start seeing in bookstores. Retail $18.99

Amazon Edition / Trade Paperback (ISBN: 979-8774412730) - For those who don't know, Amazon assists authors and small publishers with its own press. There are some advantages to taking advantage of it. The quality is just as good as Ingram with slightly thicker paper. Other than its heft, there was less room to include information on the back cover (only three reviews as opposed to the five on Ingram) but adding an author photo was easy. It's a great-looking book with a much stronger spine. The title really pops. Another advantage. I haven't heard of a price increase yet. Retail $16.99

Amazon Edition / Laminate Hardcover (ISBN: 979-8985381115) - Amason's hardcover offering is a laminate hardcover (like textbooks, except matt) and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it looks and feels. It also left less room for information on the back cover and could possibly benefit from wider margins around the book blurbs and reviews, but the size, feel, and quality more than makeup for it. With a bold graphic title on the spine, this is the novelty edition that found a home on my downstairs bookshelves. I don't expect as many to be printed, making it even cooler. Retail $28.99

Everything else out there is digital, with the Kindle edition turning out to be the strongest driver. If you are one of the people who helped get it there, I cannot thank you enough. I'm grateful and hope you enjoy it. And for anyone interesting in signed copies, please consider purchasing them from bookstores that stocked them early. Their support really means so much to me.

Please stay tuned. This book's story is far from finished. The audiobook narrated by 5-time Emmy winner Brian Callanan is right around the corner. A new Kindle exclusive companion piece (about 100 pages) is in the hands of my editors. I'm close to finishing a first draft short story for my newsletter, due out in March. And, more importantly, I'd be grateful if you told your friends and family that there is something surprising about 50 States. That will keep this book's story alive too. Good night and good luck.

Thursday, January 6

Publishing Books: How To Learn The Hard Way


When I was a teenager, I used to head out to Red Rock Canyon alone or with friends or with family and hike, climb, or explore this seemingly infinite slice of desert wilderness that frames a 13-mile scenic drive. (I still do.) But what used to make those early journeys so memorable is I always had a knack for choosing the most difficult routes to whatever destination we had in mind.

One time, my friends and I were out there climbing one of the various formations, and I spotted what seemed like the quickest route. It was a 100-foot rock wall with natural handholds carved into the sandstone, so I didn't think twice. I started climbing. It started raining. And because I was too far up to head back, I had no other option than to keep going — one of the most challenging, most frightening climbs of my life (no ropes).

It wouldn't be the first time. My education. My companies. My magazines. My blogs. My social networks. My classes. My partnerships. Most were done the hard way. No surprise. My first book would be too.

My publishing path. The hard way. 

My company, Copywrite, Ink., is no stranger to publishing. We launched three publications we owned (shuttered one, sold one, still own one) and helped other publishers launch their own. So there was never any question that my company would publish my first fiction title and, possibly, subsequent titles. 

This was especially true because I knew my first book would be a collection of short stories, and I had this idea to include a graphic chapter divider between chapters, playing to the voyeuristic feel of some stories. So it was a matter of which manufacturing platform I would use. 

I chose Blurb. I chose it because it seemed like the easiest path to put out a book: free ISBN, print and digital distribution, etc. What caught my interest was Bookwright, which is a native app for Blurb, and especially good for books with graphics, illustrations, etc. If I were producing an illustrated children's book, I would consider them again. For 50 States, however, I'm already doing it differently. 

Lessons learned, and still climbing. 

1. If you have a publishing imprint, pass on the free ISBN. What authors or new indie publishers need to know before taking a free ISBN is that the printer or publishing partner (e.g., Blurb, Publishdrive, etc.) will list its own name as the publisher when the book is distributed. Amazon is a bit different. It will list it as independently published.

Purchase your ISBNs instead. They are not that expensive. You can purchase them in bulk, which is ideal because you'll need a new one for each format. Several companies can do it, but I'm using Bowker going forward. It is one of the best known and is very easy to use.

This will also negate a few other inconveniences with Blurb. Specifically, you cannot include an ISBN inside a Blurb-produced book because they are autogenerated during the process. And, if you do want to make a correction later, any modification will generate an entirely new ISBN, which is less than ideal. 

2. Always file for copyright before publication. Ingram Spark, Amazon, Blurb, etc. have made publishing so easy that you can publish before you file for a copyright. However, there may be instances later down the line when a copyright is required. Since it could take weeks or months before it is cleared (unless you pay a hefty expedite fee), you don't want to start the process when you need it. 

This did happen to me. My audiobook production was held up for a few weeks because the platform required copyright paperwork as evidence of rights. I was fortunate that I could demonstrate that I own the rights to my work before the copyright claim cleared, but trust me when I say having one sooner would have been a lot easier.

Likewise, make sure to submit your book to the Library of Congress ahead of time if it's eligible. (Note: digital exclusive books do not qualify for PCNs.) You can work to get a book cataloged after the fact, but it's much easier to use the pre-pub application system.  

3. Not all print and digital combinations are equal. I didn't know Blurb's digital editions are fixed format. A fixed format digital book makes a lot of sense for illustrated children's books. It's not ideal for a short story collection or novel, which works better with an auto-flow format. 

Almost immediately after publishing, I had to convert 50 States to an autoflow format fit for Kindle and then something that would work for Nook, Apple, Kobo, etc. There was no benefit in having Blurb distribute the book digitally, although I have left a fixed format edition on its site.

4. Kindle Unilimted is a Kindle Select exclusive. Allowing Blurb to release a digital version of 50 States negated my ability to take Kindle Select promotional opportunities for a test drive, including Kindle Unlimited. It would have been nice to reach that audience with the debut.

No worries. I'll have time to work it out. My next collection — a shorter 10-story collection that continues and intersects with some of the stories inside 50 States — will be released as a Kindle-only exclusive. I'm expecting to release it soon, shortly after or in conjunction with the audiobook edition of 50 States.

5. There are better cover options available elsewhere. The trade paperback published with the help of Blurb is a quality product. However, there were some limitations. The most obvious was the lack of a matte trade paperback. Again, a gloss cover is ideal for children's books, but I prefer matte for literature.

Since the release of my book, I've slowly shifted to asking online purchasers to order the Amazon print editions of 50 States — a trade paperback and laminate hardcover — or the newly released hardcover with dust jacket cover and trade paperback available elsewhere through Ingram Spark. For anyone ordering from me direct, I'm still selling a few dozen copies from the orginal run (as are a few bookstores). 

Incidentally, I did order a hardcover with a dust jacket copy from Blurb too. I have the only one that will ever be produced. There was no imprint on the spine and some pages were loose, which is why I turned to Ingram Spark for off-Amazon publishing. The new book looks great. 

Lessons learned, and enjoying the experience. 

I've been very fortunate that my book has been and continues to be well-received despite skipping a pre-publishing review period and amassing preorders. (I'll address those and other lessons another time.)

As for publishing, while there are other options, I'm leaning toward Amazon as a primary partner and Ingram Spark as a partner for all print outside of Amazon. Digital can be managed effortlessly with Apple, Nook, and Kobo direct. And then there are other vehicles like PublishDrive if you are interested in targeting libraries or other independent digital bookstores.

The most important thing is seeing steady book sales and satisfied readers at the end of the day. Everything else is just an experience, good or bad, to look back on and smile.

It isn't any different than climbing that rock wall when I was a kid. My friends might have found a different route during my struggle and beat me to the top, but it didn't detract from my, albeit foolhardy, accomplishment. It was an experience that taught me a lot more than reaching a destination. 

Monday, December 13

Signing Books: Five Places I Visited For 50 States

Book signings are finally coming back in fashion, but still not everywhere. Some bookstores are holding out for one thing or another. My own book, 50 States, missed out on meet-and-greets last June. Nobody would host book signings back then, so I eventually settled into dropping signed books off at select locations — usually coinciding with my daughter's travel softball schedule.

I didn't mind. I still had a chance to visit some pretty cool bookstores and meet some great people, sometimes leaving with more books than I brought. I'm grateful to them all, so here's a holiday shout out.

BookMonster in Santa Monica, Calif. BookMonster was the first bookstore to pick up signed copies. I wrote a post about the experience, and my gratitude hasn't diminished. The store has been an icon at 212 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica, just northeast of Ye Olde King's Head and King and Queen Cantina. My book currently has a home at the store on the second shelf (top to bottom) of D07. They shelved it there because the first edition description sounded a bit metaphysical (but it's not, really). 

The book is listed "like new," and it is new. You can reserve your copy online

The store is pretty cool with a big square footprint that is surprisingly deep. The shelves along the outside walls run floor to ceiling. Once past the front area (reserved for new books and accessories), the store is organized with two columns of spacious rows all the way to the back of the store. The store also has some scarce books protected by glass cases in the very back. They have a sandwich board outside the store that counts how many books they've sold today. 

BookEnds in Kailua, Hawaii. Before traveling to Hawaii, I reached out to almost every bookstore on the island of O'ahu. Most of them didn't respond or weren't interested in carrying any titles from a debut author. I almost gave up until I reached out to one more the same day we arrived on the island.

The manager asked me a few questions about the book. Then she said she loved the hook, loved the wholesale price, and asked how many copies I brought with me. She took them all. 

BookEnds is a small neighborhood bookstore. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in character and books. There are shelves of books, stacks of books, and piles of books that make up a meandering book garden of sorts. The longer you wander, the more likely you are going to find that one hidden gem you can't find somewhere else.

The store is located at 600 Kailua Rd, Ste 126 in Kailua, on the southeast side of the island, northeast of Waikiki. The drive through the mountains made the side trip worthwhile. And we look forward to exploring more of Kailua the next time we go. 

Barnes & Noble in Henderson, Nev. I've had some interesting experiences reaching out to bookstores in Las Vegas. The best of them was with Barnes & Noble in Henderson. Once they knew I was a local author, they didn't hesitate. 

Barnes & Noble does it a bit differently than indie stores. They prefer to order copies instead of accepting them from the author. When the books came in, they contacted me to schedule a visit. I really appreciated it because they also had their hands full with a store remodel. 

This Barnes & Noble, located at 567 N. Stephanie St., gets books, authors, and readers. Not only did I sign the books they had on hand, but they also did a quick in-store promo that they shared on Twitter and Facebook. And, they noticed I did my own post about the visit. You can find a copy of 50 States on their local author bookshelf toward the store's back (in front of the digital media section). 

I've visited the store several times over the years, and I have to add that the remodel has transformed it into a book lover's paradise. If I need some last-minute books, this will be my go-to Barnes & Noble, even if it is a little more out of the way. 

BookMaze in Mesa, Arizona. The Phoenix area is a little more like Las Vegas in that not all independent stores are friendly to debut authors. One will even charge indie authors a stocking fee to sell their book on consignment and charge them for any unsold copies.

I didn't qualify for this program because my book is available from major distributors, not that I would have accepted the offer anyway. Instead, I discovered the out-of-way BookMaze in Mesa, Ariz., that stocks scores of books with a floorplan that lives up the store's "maze" name. 

While the front entry can be a little offputting, the bookstore itself is like a lost city of books at deeply discounted prices. The shelves are arranged in interesting angles, broken up by a few cubbies and seating areas like you might find at the heart of a maze. 

My visit felt awkward because the bookstore owner wasn't in when I arrived and no one knew they were picking up 50 States. But after showing my messages to one of the clerks, she was happy to help. I'm not the only one. The bookstore has a reputation for helping people — they recently donated 400 pounds of candy to our troops! 

Adventures Underground in Richland, Wash. Adventures Underground, located at 1391 George Washington Way, was an absolutely amazing discovery. It's part bookstore, comic shop, gaming hub, and collectibles gift store all rolled up into one — the kind of eclectic coolness you wish you could find in every city. There is even an inviting cafe attached with coffees, smoothies, and other tasty treats. 

My family and I browsed more shelves in this store than any other. Most of mine was spent perusing an extensive sampling of metal fantasy figures on pegboards (an old hobby I haven't paid much attention to lately) and thumbing through some of their comic book drawers. 

Ultimately, I didn't find any comics to fill a few holes in my collection. However, my daughter picked up a limited-run comic series featuring Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. If we had had more time, we could have browsed for hours. But as I mentioned before, many of these stops happen between softball games. 

Future Visits 

These were the first five stores with which I arranged signed book drops, but they won't be the last. Next year's softball schedule will take us to several cities, including Denver. I'm incredibly excited about that stop because the Tattered Cover serves as a setting for one of my stories inside 50 States. 

With book signings finally coming back into fashion, I'm hoping to arrange in-person signings for a few hours instead of the sign-and-dash book drops next year. The timing couldn't be better. Right now, 50 States is in audiobook production, and the long-awaited hardcover edition press check recently shipped. 

Of course, more than all that and to the point: I really do appreciate these stores for adding 50 States to their shelves. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are vital to our communities, and I hope you find some time to visit them — whether you are looking for 50 States or not — to fill your holiday gift list. Good night, good luck, and happy reading.


 

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