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 $8.95 via Amazon. Other digital versions are on sale for the same price. 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!

Wednesday, September 22

Burning Things: Inside A Story Form 50 States

Where's There Smoke
Every time I read an article about wildfires sweeping the western United States, it's always accompanied by an acute sense of loss. I feel for every family forced to evacuate, never knowing what they might come home to or if there will even be a home to go back to when they can return.

Last year, more than 17,000 structures were burned or damaged, many of them houses. More than 550 homes were lost to California's Dixie fire just this year. That's just one fire. And wildfires are not the only culprit. Every year, more than 14 million people go homeless after natural disasters around the world. Events like Katrina in 2005, for example, added 12,000 new homeless in the New Orleans area alone.

Reading about it sometimes makes me wonder what I might do if I was forced to evacuate. We make a mental inventory of what things might be worth saving. Or, in some cases, we wonder what things would be sacrificed. My home, for instance, displays a dozen or so paintings my father painted before his death. He was only 19 when he died, but his talent was phenomenal. The paintings connect me to him. But I don't see how we could save them in an emergency.

What is it about the rest of it?

Aside from family photos and other heirlooms, what about the rest of it? Most of the items in our homes will one day be reduced to an estate sale or hauled away for the trash. And yet, for most people, these possessions become as much a part of them as their memories. 

Early last year, my home was broken into by one of our neighbor's kids. Every item they took was an individual violation, with the worst of them being two cars we left in the garage. One of which, my vintage Infiniti, was nearly totaled (technically totaled). So, I get it. 

And yet, there is always this tiny holdover from when I was 10 years old and forced to give up everything I owned — except for three choice playthings — when I was dubiously moved from one household to another. Things are just things, you tell yourself. Let them go.

Inside 'Where There's Smoke.'  

I wove several themes into the short story 'Where's There Smoke' inside 50 States. But most people who read it see what's on the surface first. One of the last families to evacuate a wildfire that will almost certainly consume their home sees presumed looters racing up to the house as they leave it behind. 

I write about them and what they would do. But if it was you, what would you do?

On the one hand, the fire will likely consume the entirety of everything left behind. On the other, strangers will invade your home, taking those things you painfully surrendered.

There is a grayness here where no one answer is the right one. It's a life-defining moment, regardless what decision is made. If you continue down the hill to safety as your home is ransacked, it says something about you. If you decide to head back to the home to scare them off, that says something about you too. And so do all those supporting decisions in between.

By the way, if you are wondering what to do about wildfire, the American Red Cross has a wildfire relief fund. You can read about wildfires and the volunteers who help evacuees receive the support they need.

Monday, September 13

Writing: Why Fiction And Why Bother?

When I told one of my clients that I would eventually retire into writing fiction, she blinked in disbelief. 

"Do you really want to do that?"

"Yes," I said. 

As an executive, it didn't make any sense to her whatsoever. Why would a guy with mile deep resume as a strategic communication consultant and A-list marketing and advertising copywriter start over as a fiction writer? It might be nice to write something for myself for a change, I said. For the last 30 years, I've only written for other people.

That's what I told her. But the answer is a bit more complicated, one with several answers that depend upon how the question is framed — including that old standby many authors have. It's an itch that needs to be scratched. 

Why do you love writing fiction? 

Initially, it was really about telling stories. Storytelling is so important in our lives. Once a child's basic needs are met, the next step in their development is to hear a story. "Tell me a story," they ask and ask.

I was no exception. I always asked for stories. And as soon as I was old enough, I starting telling stories too. I had a story about everything. My stuffed animals had backstories. My play activities (like army men) had back stories. The games I made up with friends had back stories. I told so many stories, my grandmother used to laugh about it. If you don't become an artist, she said, become an attorney.

Ironically, I wasn't a very good reader (or writer) despite my love for stories. All of my stories were illustrated, play acted, or verbal. It wasn't until I changed majors from psychology to journalism that I became a strong writer — good enough to have established a 30-year career after it became my go-to medium over art and illustration (which I'm trying to brush up and catch up on nowadays). 

Right. That's a bit of a back story, but it doesn't answer the question. So here it goes.

Why do you love writing fiction?

More than any other form of writing, it seems that fiction empowers us to open up deeper conversations about life experiences. And, because fiction involves fictional characters, it creates a safe space to talk about those experiences because well-written stories involve us emotionally without requiring a personal expense. Ergo, we may be vested, but we have no skin in the game. 

When fictional characters make decisions in the face of life-defining moments, we can agree with their choices or not, understand their paths or not, and make our own decisions about how we feel or what we might do too. When the story works, it can be a powerful experience.

But hey, why not nonfiction?

As a journalist and sometimes as a writer for the nonprofit sector, it wasn't uncommon for me to write about complex subjects, but the exercise is different. It's grounded in reality, with the story being told belonging to someone else. While these too can lead to powerful experiences, it's often without the ability to explore someone's pain or joy beyond the empathy we may or may not feel for them. 

For example, several years ago, I developed a campaign about pool safety. We shared some stories with local newspapers, but the heaviest lifting was a series of print and radio advertisements. 

What I learned then, as I know now, is that fiction hits different from fact. When people read about real life drownings, they often react with outrage toward whomever left the child unattended — often a flash-in-the-pan emotion. But when they experience it as a fictional story like the one we developed for radio, the award-winning spot just hit differently. 

In the radio commercial, the narrator (a father) tells the story of a little boy who wanted to grow up to be a fireman. The little boy, the father continues, even bought him a fire truck — one that made so much noise (you know the ones) that it became annoying. The father even laughs before his voice cracks, lamenting how he misses that annoying siren now because his son, the want-to-be firefighter, fell in the pool while rescuing a toy and drowned. 

There is no outrage. The listener feels the story as if it's their story, and it sticks because they feel the character's remorse as opposed to judging a neglectful parent. Even then, I was writing fiction.

There are no pool stories inside 50 States: A collection of short short stories, and I seldom, if ever, include a definite stance on any outcome like I did in the pool safety commercials. Often, just like life, there isn't any right answer in the decisions my characters make or how they cope with their decisions. And that's what I love about writing and reading fiction. 

 

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