Showing posts with label 50 States. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 50 States. Show all posts

Friday, July 29

Breaking 1,000: 50 States, One Year Later

When 50 States was published last year, I didn't have the highest expectations. It's not that I didn't believe in the work. I did and do. But I'm also a realist who read some articles: self-published authors likely sell around 250 books or less; short story collections by small publishers sell between 300 and 2,000, about 1,000 for short story collections; and traditionally published authors sell around 3,000, a fraction of that for short story collections. All of these averages, by the way, are not considered spectacular

Even more discouraging, the averages cited above are not one-year sales. These averages are based on the lifetime of the book — which some claim can be as short as six months, which is why some try to put out a new title every six months. 

Right. Don't quit your day job. 

Yes, there are exceptions. We've all heard stories of breakout debuts and bidding wars. But the general rule of thumb for authors is to temper expectations. Even Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point didn't find its tipping point until its third year (so much for that six-month lifetime theory). He just kept promoting it and promoting it and promoting it until he found an audience. 

That's how I became a writer too. 

I became a freelance writer in 1991 during a recession when nobody could hire a writer, but everybody had writing work. I didn't make enough money to pay the bills for the first two years writing advertising copy and articles, so I worked part-time matching colors in a paint store. 

I specifically worked in a paint store 40 hours a week, Friday through Monday, so I could dedicate Tuesday through Thursday to establishing a career that became a company. It worked, but it took two years before I could comfortably cut the apron strings and pass on an offer to become an assistant manager mixing paint.

It wasn't until the third year that I had to hire more talent to help, the fifth year to incorporate, and the eighth before we expanded into publishing with more than 40 creatives working part time, full time, or stringing for Copywrite, Ink. It was a big wave, working on more than 1,000 accounts from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Then there came the point when I woke up from the 100-hour work weeks and realized I was managing (and teaching and serving my community) more than I was writing. 

So, I sold some stuff and scaled way back. Nowadays, I only work with select clients and have a blast doing it.

How did I do it? Like anything. 

You build a successful commercial writing career like you do any business: one job at a time. And knowing this, I always assumed you build a readership much the same way: one book at a time. 

Never mind the setbacks or heartbreaks. Keep moving forward and find the people who appreciate the work. The successes will come in time. As long as you've written a decent book (or built a great product or created a great service), some measures of success will likely come back to you directly proportionate to the time and/or money you invest in it. At least I like to think so. It's the model I'm using now. 

50 States Breaks 1,000. Ten Threads hits 500. 

Selling 1,000 copies of 50 States in the first year and 500 copies of Ten Threads (Kindle exclusive) in two months seems like a solid baseline for a debut novel (and more short stories) that I intend to see published next year. It's on par with or better than traditional publishers, especially as I took in the learning curve.

I might also mention that 50 States didn't truly hit its stride until five or six months after publication. It became a Top 100 bestseller for three consecutive months in January of this year, not last year when I published it. It still does for a day or two, from time to time, demonstrating it has a lot of life left. And no, neither book has a 99 cents or $2.99 price point, although I have put them on sale occasionally. 

Aside from sales, 50 States and Ten Threads have retained solid rankings and reviews. 50 States is 4.2 on Amazon and 4.3 on Goodreads. Ten Threads is rated 4.4 on Amazon and 4.5 on Goodreads. 

50 States also won two awards: first place for short stories in the Spring 2022 BookFest Awards and first place for literary fiction, psychological thrillers, and short stories in the ABR Book Excellence Awards. InD’tale Magazine and OnlineBookClub.org also gave it top marks, giving it a "Crowned Heart" award and 4-star review, respectively.

Overall, both releases are beating the averages and have plenty of life left with a couple selling every day on slow days and bursts of sales on others. It reminds me that great things take about two years. I have one more to go.

Let's end with a few lessons learned. 

I wouldn't have done it differently because a few life circumstances dictated my direction on the front end. However, here are six lessons learned that I'm happy to pass along. 

• The best 'author' marketers aren't necessarily the best 'book' marketers. The publishing industry is loaded with pariahs that spend all their time marketing to authors and very little time selling the books, which is what they promise authors they will do. I won't out anyone here, but several top book marketing brands produced some of my lowest price points. 

•  The best 'book' marketers aren't cheap either. On the opposite end of the spectrum, authors are pitched by plenty of people who promise hundreds of thousands of impressions for ten or twenty bucks. I gave a few a shot as part of my learning curve. Lesson learned. Stick with mid-level, relatively affordable book marketers for the best price. Other than my own hustle, mid-level marketers produced my best results. 

• Never pay for newswire distribution with major news affiliations. On two occasions, I was sold on the idea that book marketers or 'publicists' had magazine connections when all they really did was put a news release out on a newswire. If you're an author thinking about paying someone to do this, give me a call. I can write a better release for you and put it on the wire for you at a better price point. Egad. 

• Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it opens up a new audience. Conversely, some people who download your book might not be in your audience. If they post their lackluster review first, it can depress your initial sales. When this happened to Ten Threads, I looked up their other reviews and discovered my stories were well outside what they normally read. KU also means you receive a fraction of a penny per page, which doesn't come close to the actual sale price. It still has a place, so use KU sparingly for exposure but not on every title. 

• Having worked with three primary distributors, I can safely say there is one route to take unless you plan to publish a children's book. Publishing with Ingram Spark and Amazon simultaneously will produce the best results. Simply put, Ingram Spark is your best bet to put quality books into bookstores, but expect the lion's share of your sales to come from Amazon. Maybe one day that will change in a creator economy, but it's probably a safe bet for the next two years or so. 

• Last but not least, have as much patience as possible. Take some time to get advanced reader copies out to people before your release in exchange for feedback and a review before release. Along with that, put the presale date well ahead of your release. Early reviews will help book sales (even if I admit that I don't have the patience to wait). On the flip side, don't believe anyone who tells you the first month is critical or you will fail. It's important, sure, but you can still break the bestsellers list weeks or months or years after release. Books don't really have lifespans in my opinion, unless a publisher or author abandons them.

Hope these tips prove useful for future authors. And, equally important, if you were one of the thousands of people who bought 50 States or Ten Threads — thank you so very much! Here's to more books ahead! 

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.

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.


Tuesday, November 16

Being Native: Native American Heritage Month

When I was younger, 
I didn't know but always knew I was part Native American. Despite what others told me, I could see it in the photos of my late father. I could see it on my skin in the summer, a tan five shades darker than other boys. I could feel in my heart, preferring to play the role of Geronimo or Lone Wolf during any game of "Cowboys and Indians." 

There were other tells as well. Too many to share today. Suffice to say, some of my early interests made more sense when I discovered this part of my heritage. 

I'm one-quarter Native American, with my most immediate roots connected to the various small bands of people who inhabited the Rio Grande valley. Some were called Coahuiltecan. Some were called Karankawa. Some were called Tejanos in Texas. Some may have been Lipan Apache. My deeper roots are tied to the Quechua. It's conclusive, with some of my DNA markers unique to only them (a tribe that was older but later part of the Inca Empire).

It seems to fit. Under different circumstances, my surname would have been Navejar, which means navigator in Spanish. My paternal ancestors migrated north with Spanish explorers, voluntarily or not, before settling in areas of northeastern Mexico like Nuevo León and southern Texas around Corpus Christi — families intertwined but also on opposing sides during the Texas Revolution.

Growing up with missing links. 

I wish I had known more about my Native American heritage while growing up. It may have spared me a few uncomfortable moments over the years, especially from people who either don't believe it or want me to deny it. Our country tends to place too much emphasis on pigment and perception.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat in a meeting with someone claiming the board is too "white," leaving me to wonder if I have the energy to correct them. Or, conversely, finding out someone is surprised that I'm my daughter's father because they thought I was "Mexican" and her skin is too fair.

My children have a complete picture of their heritage. They are primarily German, Welsh, and Native American on my side. They are primarily Scottish, Irish, and Portuguese on my wife's side. They are proud of all of it. But more than that, they are Americans. Most people in the United States are Americans, yet too many people forget it. In my opinion, we would be better off placing any other descriptors after American, e.g. American Native. 

Native American Heritage Month 

There are some fantastic resources to understand the first tribes better, recognize their accomplishments, and consider the complexities of how indigenous Americans connected with other Americans. The United States maintains a Native American Heritage Month website with links to hundreds of other resources, exhibits, and collections. 

Some of my favorites include Bureau of Indian Affairs photos and Flickr exhibits maintained by the National Archives, cinema showcases presented by the Smithsonian, and location histories by the National Parks Service. I also recommend the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum honors the generations of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian members of the United States Armed Forces beginning with the American Revolution. It captures the complexity of history.

Complexity is a concept we need to reintroduce to the study of history. While the duality of humankind tempts us to choose sides, objective reality doesn't bend so easily. Mostly, history is filled with people doing the best they can in the world that was presented before them. Occasionally, there are one or two who move humankind forward, for better or worse. Maybe we could judge less and empathize more.

Native Americans in my book, 50 States 

My heritage influences my writing from time to time. I've written several stories that include Native Americans. In my anthology of short stories, 50 States, there are two that explicitly include indigenous peoples and three with characters who are part Native American. 

The story of Chief Math-tope of the Mandan (Numakiki) tribe is featured in All The Wild Horses. It's about a girl who attempts to save a herd of Mustangs in North Dakota by moving them from the Badlands to a reservation. The other, The Qallupilluk, is about a Yupik family that saves a runaway in Alaska. 

The other three include Four Fathers (Georgia), Indian Wrestling (Minnesota), and Spinning Wheel (Florida). The reference to their heritage is subtle to nonexistent. Like any of my stories, things like heritage or race are only important to a story if it's important to the characters. You know. It's like real life. 

The digital book is on sale everywhere in celebration of Native American Heritage Month, with the best deals at Barnes & Noble and Amazon through November 30. Paperback copies are available from most booksellers, and you can find a shortlist of bookstores with signed copies here. The book is doing well. I'll be sharing an update, along with an exclusive short story, via my quarterly newsletter very soon. Sign up today to make sure you receive it in your mailbox during the first week of December.

Thursday, October 7

Opening October: The Spookier Side Of 50 States


Some people think the thrillers inside 50 States are scarier than any brush-ups with the supernatural. Still, some speculative tales do work overtime in creating the right atmosphere for Halloween. Kirkus Reviews called a few out, knowing that their review was coming conspicuously close to October.

So what should you look for inside 50 States? While plenty of stories could qualify on a longer list, I've narrowed it down to five short stories that fit the season.

Five Stories From 50 States For Halloween

5. All Your Joys. This story is about a boy who breaks into his neighbor's home, never considering the consequences of doing so in a town like Salem, Massachusetts. The cost for his infraction is more than he could have imagined.  

4. Papa Ghede. An orphaned teen decides to embrace unknown monsters over the monster she knows in New Orleans, dabbling in the darker side of voodoo as a means of escape from an abusive uncle. The story is named after the corpse of the first man who ever died. He now waits to take souls to the afterlife. 

3. Top Rung. An industrious young career woman contemplates her success in contrast to her sister's failings while taking an early morning run. As she loses herself in thought, her run is interrupted — first by a careless driver and then something just outside her peripheral vision. 

2. Into The Bardo. Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, is well known for being one of the most "spirited" locales in the United States. This short story recounts one such incident involving the final hours of a fishing trawler before it's lost beneath the waves. 

1. Shine On You Crazy Diamonds. There is a house in Michigan with a history. The bad luck began with the Diamond family in the 1920s and followed every visitor afterward, including three boys who trespassed on Devil's Night.

Two of the stories already have companion pieces. I shared The Shut Out, which tells some of the original Diamond family troubles, in my first quarterly newsletter. I followed Papa Ghede up with The Night Bus, a short story slated for my 50 Threads project.

Right now, the kindle version of 50 States is on sale for $4.99 via Amazon. Other digital versions are on sale for $5.99. The print version price varies. For a complete listing of stores — including a growing number of places where you can find signed copies — visit my author page on Copywrite, Ink. Happy Halloween!

Friday, August 27

Flipping Pages: 50 States And 50 Stories


What's your book about? It's the most commonly asked question and an easy one to answer for most authors. For me, it's a bit trickier to answer because I don't have one answer. I have 51 of them. 

The first answer, which should be my 51st answer, is that 50 States is a debut collection of experimental, psychological, and speculative short-short stories. Each story takes place in a different state and touches on different states of mind. It's an accurate depiction but doesn't really share enough. 

So, if someone doesn't ask about a specific state, I ask them what they like to read and mention which story or stories match up. There is a little bit of every genre inside 50 States, and most of them, I'm told, cut darkly. Here's a lexicon of sorts so you can see what I mean:

A look inside the 50 stories that make up 50 States.

Broken People. Idaho 2003. Fate gives a farmer another chance for redemption.

The Lake House. Conn. 2005. A grandmother shares how fixing a family is like refinishing furniture. 

Dead Ends. Utah 1992. A couple takes an adventurous turn off a desert highway. 

The Blue Door. Calif. 2019. A woman feels the gravity of her decision to open a motel door. 

The Best Life. Ark. 2019. A man trolls the Internet for old flames after acquiring a unique gift. 

Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Mich. 1975. Three kids visit a haunted house on Devil’s Night. 

Wet. Wash. 1971. A teacher strike becomes a catalyst for action in a coming-of-age story.

Private Conversations. Colo. 2020. A loner hears whispers on the mile-and-a-quarter MallRide. 

A Beautiful Day. Penn. 1990. A patient asks paramedics to sound the siren for heaven. 

Good Neighbors. Nev. 2019. Two neighbors have their first conversation as one moves away.

The Qallupilluk. Alaska 1982. A runaway becomes immersed in the Yupik culture.

The Chain. Iowa 2016. A woman confesses to a police officer while sharing her past. 

The Straw. Va. 2012. College students test the boundaries of their friendship. 

Leftovers.  Wyo. 2020. A woman works to reconcile a relationship with her grandfather. 

Spinning Wheel. Fla. 1969. A young artist decides to reunite with his son in another state. 

Vertigo. N.M. 1955. A man has one final thought after he jumps off a hotel roof. 

The Domino. Mo. 1962. A shanty town family is warned that the time to run has come. 

The Interview. N.Y. 2017. A recent law school graduate interviews with a Manhattan firm. 

The Stranger. S.D. 1982. A mysterious stranger wanders into the back room of a dying diner.

Forget Me Nots. W. Va. 1971. An aging mother relives the same day in a nursing home.

Bad Things. N.H. 2018. A veteran and recovering alcoholic hides out in a crossroads bar.

The Engagement. N.J. 1981. A fortune teller predicts doom just days before an engagement. 

Papa Gede. La. 2014. A teenager attempts to practice voodoo to escape an abusive uncle. 

The Standoff. Ariz. 2017. Two immigrants from different countries face off under Arizona’s sun.

As It Seems. Kan. 1971. A farm family welcomes strangers into the safety of their storm shelter. 

Screen Door. Wis. 1981. A narrator recounts his regrets after losing a family cottage. 

A Hole In The Wall. Hawaii 2020. Two teens meet at a hole in the wall that isolates them. 

Where’s There Smoke. Ore. 2019. Looters look to capitalize on a forest fire evacuation. 

Punching And Hugging. Md. 1990. A groom has second thoughts on the day of his wedding. 

All Your Joys. Mass. 2019. A troubled teen chooses the wrong house to rob in Salem. 

Four Fathers. Ga. 1968. A father explains how only one of his children had the best of him. 

The Samaritan. Ind. 2016. A teenage girl escapes harassment by taking a ride from a stranger. 

Indian Wrestling. Minn. 1968. Two boys challenge each other to prove their courage.

Into The Bardo. R.I. 2017. An investigator discovers something sinister off the coast. 

Tidy Lines. Mo. 1992. A brother demonstrates contempt for his sister’s boyfriend. 

The Catch. Texas 1957. A German circus lures a local lad on the promise of extra work. 

Time Capsule. Maine 2017. A young woman returns home to find her hometown unchanged. 

Top Rung. S.C. 2013. A successful woman contrasts her sister’s choices on a morning run.

All The Wild Horses. N.D. 2019. A ranch girl interferes with the round-up of wild horses. 

Sidelines. Ill. 1963. An aging mid-level manager wonders why one boy never boards the bus.

On The Fourth Of July. Del. 2018. A babysitter is attacked inside an affluent coastal home. 

Mockingbirds. Okla. 2006. A writer reflects on life after meeting a recovering veteran. 

Precinct 13. Ky. 1978. A gang of kids hatches a rescue plan to save two neighborhood pets. 

The Extra Mile. Ala. 2008. A man wonders if God might work at a convenience store. 

Siren’s Call. Vt. 2019. A family’s home becomes the target of revenge and retribution. 

The Right Choice. Neb. 2010. A retired delivery driver for Hostess regrets saving a child’s life. 

The Sweeper. Miss. 1972. A filmmaker uproots his family for racial unrest in the rural south.

All The Odds. N.C. 2020. A woman celebrates her deceased brother’s birthday with a drink. 

The Thin Blue Line. Ohio 2017. A delinquent teen is pressured into robbing a rail patron. 

Wheels Go Round. Tenn. 1977. Two runaway teens only have one bus ticket between them.

50 States is moving forward, much like it was written, one story at a time.

I always knew 50 States would move forward much like I wrote it — one story at a time. Every day, I ask one reviewer to consider my book (several reviews are pending now). Every trip, I ask one bookstore to stock signed copies (which I'm now listing these locations here). Every month, I've re-formatted editions for Apple, Kindle, Google, and Nook.

At the same time, I'm moving many of the stories inside 50 States forward, writing new stories that either continue, link, or otherwise keep those listed above very much alive. If you want to follow along, you can find me on most social networks or subscribe to my quarterly newsletter. I hope to see you there. Writing and publishing can be a fun and exciting adventure! Good night and good luck. 

Thursday, July 8

Telling Stories: The Fiction - Nonfiction Dichotomy

His question almost stumped me. While taping my appearance on Ira's Everything Bagel, award-winning broadcaster Ira David Sternberg asked me to talk about the dichotomy of fiction writers/readers and nonfiction writers/readers.

Is there a difference? I don't really think so.

Sure, some people think so. Many people feel like Beasts of No Nation author Uzodinma Iweala as captured by Miwa Messer's column on Barnes & Noble Review. Despite his first book being fiction, he always felt that historical accounts of war and biographies seemed more relevant. There were more facts to hold onto and tangible lessons on how to live a life grounded in historical relevance. 

Other people say the opposite. Chris Elder, for example, wrote a post on Bookstr a few years ago. It's titled "Why Reading Fiction is Better For Your Brain Than Nonfiction." He quotes Mark Twain to serve his point. "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t," said Twain. He might have been on to something. Even the Havard Business Review has made a case for reading fiction.

Then again, how much of a dichotomy is there, really? I line up a little closer (but not exactly) with writer Mark Grant, which is why the question almost stumped me. "In general, fiction refers to plot, settings, and characters created from the imagination, while nonfiction refers to factual stories focused on actual events and people," Grant writes on Book Riot, right before delving into the fact that the two often intersect.

Maybe the dichotomy is made up or, if it exists, is razor thin. 

This might be a bit too philosophical to some, but the entirety of reality is made up of stories. In fact, homo sapiens arguably evolved from an unexceptional savannah-dwelling primate to become the dominant force on the planet because of them. 

It didn't really matter if those stories were fiction or fact. All that mattered is we learned to tell them, sharing past experiences or imagining a different experience altogether. In fact, this is the very premise of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harai and a concept I hard-baked into many communications classes and presentations over the years, including the one I delivered to the National Recreation and Park Association in 2015.

People are the only creatures on this planet that exist with a dual reality — one formed by our perception of the world around us (the desk, the chair, the window) and one that is formed entirely by abstract concepts, societal constructs, and public opinions. In short, most of our facts are not facts at all.

Maybe our brains can't tell the difference between fact and fiction either. 

I don't mean this rigidly. The brain processes sensory information and imagined information differently. We can tell a character in a novel apart from a living person. And yet, we can't deny that fiction acts as a sort of surrogate life. It can even influence how we see the world, doubly so if that fiction is packaged as real (like more documentaries pretend to be).

There are reasons for all this. The capacity for cognitive empathy is why we feel for fictional characters in stories, novels, and movies. So while our brains might process sensory information and imagined information differently, the sensory input of a book or film can still be mirrored by specific neurons, causing us to feel what all those characters feel or believe what those characters believe. 

One might even say it's the embellishment of fact that has made David McCullough, Adam Makos, and Brad Meltzer some of the most successful historians and biographers out there. Their storytelling ability helps bridge the gap between fact and what we fantasize about, triggering cognitive empathy and creating stronger, longer-lasting memories. 

Who knows? In some sections, they might have embellished plenty, much in the opposite way some fiction writers rip off reality on a regular basis. Or maybe I just made that up. Good night and good luck.

Postscript. Great news. The Kindle edition of 50 States will be available on July 21. Preorder today.

Tuesday, June 22

Writing A Book: 50 States by Richard R. Becker


Two years ago, I started writing short short stories — so short that I sometimes called them scraps. And since I didn’t belong to any writer groups, I started sharing them on my Facebook author page. 

It wasn’t the first time short fiction appeared there (or longer stories on this blog, for that matter), but two things changed. It was the first time in my life I started treating my short stories like an assignment, with equal weight to any advertising/marketing deadlines I might have. Second, it was the first time I was committed to publishing fiction with consistency so people could anticipate a new story every week on my author page. 

Experience had already taught me both habits needed to happen if I ever wanted to add fiction writing to my repertoire. These were among the habits I adopted to become a freelance writer (which quickly evolved into Copywrite, Ink.), several publications (Key News * Las Vegas, and Liquid [Hip], and even this blog (which took off in 2007 when I made it daily). You have to be in it to win it.

Immersion is a critical key to creativity.

What I didn’t expect was how immersion opened up inspiration. After sharing the first few stories, I fell into a creative rhythm, and an overarching idea began to crystalize. 

I was inspired to write about seemingly random events happening or having had happened to different people in different places — stories that could stand on their own but were also left open to be continued in unexpected ways or possibly intersect with one another. I felt so strongly about this concept that I adopted some guidelines: each story would be set in a different state, and each would touch on a different psychological state as people face or cope with different life-defining events.

Once I formalized this idea, I applied lessons learned from two friends and colleagues to keep me going. One told me to always work for myself first. The other provided a proof of concept to be disciplined. One of his projects, The Daily Monster, was an exercise in illustrating a new monster every day, no matter what. 

I knew I couldn’t write a daily story, but I did feel confident I could write one a week. For a while, I was so motivated by the immersion of writing that I would sometimes write two in a week, scheduling the additional story in advance. It was a good thing I did too. Like many creatives, last year was very disruptive to the process. Having a few scheduled in advance kept me on track when I needed an extra week for some. 

The outcome was better than I could have ever imagined. 

50 States: A Collection of Short Short Stories was an exciting project because I didn’t always know where each story might come from or go. Most often, I would work on three story concepts simultaneously, mulling over the details until one of them solidified. Other times, the story might grow out of my research. It was really important to ground even the most speculative stories to a time or place.

For instance, I knew the story I wanted to tell about two runways meeting at a Greyhound bus station in Tennessee, but I didn’t know much about the Jackson transportation system, circa 1977. Research is essential for set dressings. 

Conversely, that story about a middle-aged man and a young basketball player in Chicago isn’t as reliant on location. I could have set this story in almost any midwestern urban center, and it would have worked. However, I thought name-dropping the short-lived Chicago Zephyrs lent a nice touch for a story taking place in 1963. 

The third story I call out on the back of the book's cover didn’t have to be tied to Oregon either. But once I decided Oregon could become a home for it, I researched wildfires in Oregon so I could use it as a reference for the fictional one in the story. Now, I couldn’t imagine this modern story playing out anyplace else. It belongs there.

Intersecting stories and paths that cross, divide, and double back. 

To keep track of what states were complete, I used to color in the state shape on a line art map every time I finished a story. I also added them to a project table list. The table includes: the title of the story, the state, the date it takes place, the word count of the first draft, the date of origination, and how many actions (likes, shares, etc.) were taken on the story once I posted it to Facebook. While it didn’t influence my writing, it was nice to see how some stories resonated relative to the number of people on the page. 

I have yet another document I’m using to track every character too. Knowing some details at a glance will help me later as every character could appear, connect with, or intersect with other characters or stories in the future. Some stories already have connections in 50 States, but it’s not apparent.

I did publish a longer short story (3,600 words) on Facebook about the Diamond family from the story Shine On You Crazy Diamond that appears in 50 States. It's called The Shut Out. Unfortunately, the story was removed from Facebook when it disabled a blog-like feature called notes. The feature never really took off, but I loved it and shared several longer stories there — some of which are being slated for another project. 

However, I am sharing some new short short stories on Facebook. This new project, 50 Threads, has obvious connections to the stories in 50 States. The very first short I shared was called The Beige Door. It is a direct continuation of the story The Blue Door, which can be found in 50 States. 

Keeping tabs on various projects and what’s next. 

My company, Copywrite, Ink., partnered with Blurb on the production and distribution of the project. Anyone interested in the book can track the 50 States by Richard R. Becker page as the book is added bookstores and booksellers. I’ll also post links to booksellers on the 50 States page hosted by my company Copywrite, Ink. 

I am publishing a newsletter with exclusive “first look” content and other news. The next newsletter is out in October 2021. I am also answering questions on Goodreads. I will no longer be sharing 'first look' content on my Facebook author page, but I will post announcements there (as well as on TwitterLinkedIn, and other social networks) so you know where to find it. 

Bookmarking this blog wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I see this space as in transition, with a little more focus on life, fiction, and writing. Who knows? We’ll see. Good night and good luck.

 

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