Some Thoughts On Ebookery

After almost two months online, “A Walk in the Rain” has sold a whopping 10 copies. This is not uncommon, and I was warned a while back that short stories really don’t sell well. They almost require a novel – even a series of novels – to sell, when they become crumbs for fans begging for more from an author they like.

However, a few other things have come to light that need to be said:

  • I’ve said it here before, and I will say it again: Stop promoting on the fact you have an ebook.  That stopped being a novelty a long time ago. Sell on content. If you don’t have a story, why do I need to kick back a dollar or more?
  • I really believe selling your book for 99 cents screams “AMATEUR!” or “I’m desperate for attention.” Which is usually a big turn-off. It might explain why short stories don’t sell well as ebooks (says the guy who’s selling an ebook for 99 cents.) If people buy your book at 99 cents, they’re almost as likely to buy it at $2.99.  Only $2.99 speaks of a little more confidence in your work.  And let’s face it, the royalty rate on Kindle is much better at $2.99. Save 99 cents for short stories. (See above to see how well that works.)
  • Never quote Amazon rank to me.  Amazon rank is meaningless. You could rank higher than Stephen King on a particular day, and all it means is your friends and family bought 20 copies while no one was buying The Stand. Chances are, the next day, Steve will make the gross national product of a small African nation off The Stand while you’ll still sell only a dozen copies. The only numbers that count are copies sold and money made. That’s it.
  • A couple of writers told me it’s impossible to sell ebooks because theirs never sold. Um… I need to know its out there before I buy a copy. Put it on your web site. Talk about it on the blogs. But…
  • Don’t be obnoxious and desperate about selling your ebook, or even your print book. One lady reached her thousand-fan limit on Facebook and started inviting people to her fan page. Fair enough. I have a fan page, and I did the same.  The trouble is I ignored the invite. So she sent another. And another. And another. This went on for about two weeks. Not only did this make me even less inclined to like her fan page, but she now has one less friend on Facebook.
  • Which takes us back to point one: It’s the content, stupid. I don’t want to hear about how you need more fans on your page. I don’t want to be bombarded with daily requests to like your page. I don’t want constant barrages of requests for reviews. (Incidentally, I don’t do reviews anymore. I enjoyed it when I did it, but I don’t have time anymore.) There’s advertising, and there’s stalking. Try not to cross the line.

Does that mean I’ve found the secret to ebook success? Oh, hardly. Most people I’ve seen screw it up royally or don’t have the means to promote their work. I’m under no illusions I’ll be a JA Konrath, but if I can sell enough copies to pay for editing and artwork for new work, it’ll be a go. Otherwise, it’ll be a curiosity.

Franklin Pierce

So I’m reading about the presidents, and I reach Franklin Pierce, our fourteenth chief executive. Pierce is not someone you would have expected to become president. In fact, he left politics to tend to his lucrative law practice (which, like fellow ex-president Millard Fillmore’s, is still around today.) However, the Democratic Party, torn apart by sectional rivalries and a feud between the old Jacksonians and the “New Americans,” chose Pierce as a compromise candidate. Like Fillmore, whom he replaced, Pierce wasn’t even looking for the presidency.

Yet he was one of the first candidates in a long time who was well-suited for the job. Van Buren was too much the political magician. Harrison was a shell of his former self when he died in office. Tyler was unnecessarily duplicitous in his job. Taylor lacked education and experience, and Fillmore was a hack. Only James K. Polk, who had been Speaker of the House and Governor of Tennessee, was really worth running.

Pierce had it all – A good family pedigree that included a Revolutionary War hero father, good education, good connections. Considered the best looking man to have ever run for president – His nickname was Handsome Frank – Pierce preceded Warren Harding, Jack Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and every president from Clinton onward as a perfectly presidential-looking candidate. It helped that Pierce had an amiable personality and enjoyed (maybe too much) his drink.

Pierce had comported himself well in Congress and in the Senate, a northerner with Southern sympathies. As such, Pierce was seen as someone who could derail the Whigs (which he helped do) while bridging the widening gap between North and South (he failed).

In Michael F. Holt’s biography of Pierce, the man is hardly present during the narrative of his own administration. Pierce was screwed the moment he tried to spread his patronage among all the Democratic Party’s various factions. Holt’s focus is on those around Pierce. He is particularly unforgiving of former Secretary of State James Buchanan, now universally considered the worst president in US history. Buchanan succeeds Pierce in vindictive fashion, mercilessly purging Pierce appointees, then proceeding to indulge in the same policy of appeasing the South that doomed Pierce.

Part of what made Pierce so ineffective was the death of his son in 1853 in a train accident. A heavy drinker to begin with, the tragedy on the way to the White House probably pushed him into the alcoholism that would effect him the rest of his life. The public could not wait until Pierce was out of office, yet when Buchanan was nominated, they changed their minds. Once the campaign began in earnest, however, voters were disgusted with Buchanan and the Known Nothings and underwhelmed by both the final Whig candidate for President, General Winfield Scott, and the Republicans’ first candidate, the self-aggrandizing John C. Fremont. A groundswell to get Pierce to run once more for president failed to persuade the lame-duck president, and Buchanan won as the least of four evils. Pierce spent the next four years rolling his eyes at the pettiness and ineptitude of his former Minister to Great Britain.

Pierce’s final years found him deep in Union territory opposing Mr. Lincoln’s war (as Southern sympathizers thought of it.) He also was friends with Jefferson Davis, his former Secretary of War and close confidant. Ironically, Davis, now Lincoln’s counterpart in Richmond, had been reluctant for Mississippi to secede from the Union and did not seek the presidency of the new Confederacy.

Pierce’s problems with Union loyalists culminated on the day Lincoln was assassinated when an angry and grieving crowd converged on his home demanding to know why he wasn’t flying the flag. Pierce had only just found out about Lincoln’s death and voiced his own sorrow over the tragedy. While opposing Lincoln, he, like many Southerners, saw the slain president as the South’s best hope in the post-war era.

Pierce’s final years were spent childless with his wife in poor health. He drifted deeper into alcoholism and died in 1869 as one of our more obscure presidents.

I Understand Jimmy Hoffa Went Into Witness Protection There As Well

A new book proposes that Josef Stalin was playing a prank on the US when a strange craft crashed in Roswell, New Mexico after World War II. Because we all know that there’s nothing a man who slaughtered millions loves better than a good prank. I understand Hitler put a whoopie cushion on Neville Chamberlain’s seat during conferences over Czechoslovakia.

The current theory is no less bizarre than ones that have come before. An author claims that Stalin sent an experimental spacecraft into US airspace with malformed children created by Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele to spark mass hysteria in America. The article then continually refers to the area around Roswell as “Area 51.”

I always thought that the Roswell incident was nothing more than the Army trying to avoid admitting that a captured V2 rocket went off course, and the initial reports of aliens landing in a field were designed to hide the fact that our armed forces accidentally bombed sheep – God-fearing, patriotic American sheep. Because they did an about face and said “weather balloon,” the story just sort of took on a life of its own.

Area 51, on the other hand, is quite real. It’s where the Stealth bomber and those bat-wing fighters that put Saddam out of a job were tested. The government is so insistent that no one sees what’s going on there – really a troublesome idea for a free and open society – that the security company guarding it is authorized to use lethal force to keep people out.

Some genius at the CIA came up with the brilliant idea of tying it to Roswell to keep the Russians out. Is it any wonder the government’s cred is in tatters? We take our most secret aircraft facility and secure it by making it Nevada’s second biggest tourist attraction. Nice. While you’re at it, why not put the next raid on al Qaeda on C-SPAN, since we all know they never watch it?

I know my theory isn’t as glamorous or exciting as aliens and government conspiracies and cloak-and-dagger stuff. But I’ve met enough CIA types in my lifetime to know that they are neither Scully and Muldur chasing aliens nor are they James Bond (though bin-Laden seems to have been Blofeld right up to the end.) They’re overworked, underpaid civil servants who are often at the mercy of the political needs of their bosses.

I’m pretty sure some of them wish there were aliens at Roswell. It would make life a lot more interesting.


I have a question for Harold Camping, who seems to get this wrong over and over again?

What part of “No one knows the day nor the hour” did you not understand?

Is Jesus not a reliable source for your Biblical predictions?

What do you have to say to all those people who believed you and gave up everything?

Are you prepared to tell us what the fires of Hell are like from your own personal account? For if you’re going to quote the Bible, you might want to check out what a certain unemployed Jewish carpenter has to say on the subject of false prophets. I realize we’re not supposed to pass judgement, but you’re no better than Glenn Beck, a smarmy con artist wringing money from the gullible with tales of apocalyptic woe. Frankly, sir, you disgust me.

Let’s regroup on December 22 next year. I have a sneaking suspicion this is going to come up again.

Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be a big Earth-shattering kaboom!

Moby Dick By Herman Melville

Call him Ishmael. If you do, you’ll get an earful about whales (at least as much as anyone knew in 1851), whaling, and wind sailing in its waning days as a viable means of commercial sea-faring. Herman Melville’s classic novel about a mad captain’s obsession with the albino sperm whale who bit off his leg is equal parts travelogue, treatise on whales and whaling, and adventure story. Much of the story is exposition, Melville, through an older Ishmael, pontificating on what is known about these huge creatures, how and why they are hunted, and the history of whaling. Yes, the image of Jonah in the belly of the whale comes up often. A quick search of the Internet yields some reliable evidence that the prophet may actually have spent a day or two in a sperm whale’s gut, but that the rabbi who wrote it down neglected to mention Jonah probably emerged on the shoreline bleached white and likely half-crazed. (Explains how he got the attention of the king of Nineveh and Jonah’s subsequent temper tantrum when God didn’t get all Old Testament on the city.) I digress.

The action of the story, about 600 pages in the version I read, actually only takes up about a third of the book. Ishmael, who mostly exists as a narrator once he’s on the Pequod, is a restless youth from New York who, rather than turn to a life of crime when he’s broke and bored, goes to sea. He has already been a merchant marine, but whalers don’t really cotton to that type of seaman. It’s implied in several places that they don’t respect those who serve on those new-fangled steamship contraptions now plying the oceans.

Ishmael befriends a New Zealand cannibal named Quequeg, who left his homeland years ago to become a skilled harpooner. Signing on, Ishmael and Quequeg don’t even see their captain for a couple of days after they’ve left port. Everything is handled by Starbuck, the moody Quaker first mate. When Captain Ahab finally appears, we discover he’s one peg shy of a leg. Ahab has no intention of meeting the ship’s owners’ quotas for whale oil. He’s still recovering from an attack by an albino sperm whale in the Sea of Japan. Named “Moby Dick” by those who’ve seen it, Ahab wants it hauled aboard and boiled down to lamp oil. And he doesn’t care who gets killed in the process..

Interestingly enough, we see a lot of whaling in action, horrific to those of us who have grown up in the Save the Whales era, but fascinating nonetheless. Whaling was the predecessor to the petroleum industry, and sperm whales were highly prized for their oil. But Moby Dick does not appear until the last 75 pages of the book. When he does, it’s a complete disaster for Ahab and his crew. One wonders why the crew did not mutiny save for the loyal, but fatalistic, Starbuck.

Melville’s style is hard to get through for a modern reader. One has to remember that Melville was writing for an audience who had no Internet, no television, no radio, no movies. Many of his audience had never seen the ocean, and indeed, references are made to the Midwest and California. But while Melville wrote about his former profession with a reverence some might save for philosphy or religion (or lack thereof), he also managed to write one of the early thrillers.  Had Moby Dick been written today – Well, it’d read more like Tom Clancy than Melville.  Or maybe Clive Cussler – Ishmael’s description of how he survived would not be the end. It would be the hook for a sequel.

1984 Vs. 2011

AJ went to his first prom this past weekend. I went stag to my senior prom in 1984. Was it culture shock? Well, I wasn’t at this prom, but I heard enough. For starters…

1984 – Camera meant you had a cheap Kodak Instamatic with those tiny film rolls or a Polaroid instant camera. Which meant not everyone had a camera to record the event.
2011 – Cell phones have cameras. AJ took my point-and-shoot because it had better light adjustment than his phone and takes twelve megapixel photos.

1984 – You had to wait days for your prom photos to be developed.
2011 – AJ’s were on Facebook by 2 AM.

1984 – Some of the more religious parents whispered concerns about allowing the band to play Led Zeppelin or Judas Priest songs during the dance.
2011 – Half the rap songs, which made up most of the DJ’s playlist, were bleeped.

1984 – I thought the powder-blue tux made me look hip and trendy. Five years later, I started burning any pictures of me in that tux.
2011 – AJ picked a black tux with red vest and tie that looked old school and dressy at the same time. And likely will not embarrass him five years from now.

1984 – I slow danced with Julie Melendez to Journey’s “Open Arms.”
2011 – Whoever sang the last dance at AJ’s prom wasn’t even born in 1984 and likely only knows Journey from Glee or as “that band Randy Jackson used to be in, dog.”

1984 – Prom was in a gymnasium.
2011 – Prom is at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Last year’s was at the Newport Aquarium.

1984 – Girls look better in their prom dresses than they will in their wedding dresses.
2011 – Still do.

1984 – I wasn’t the only one who thought the powder-blue tux looked cool and was wrong.
2011 – The two dozen boys we saw wearing snow-white tuxes will learn the same lesson soon enough.

1984 – Prom rocked.
2011 – Still does.

My Politics

I used to have a habit of avoiding politics. A lot of political blogs disgust me because the writers are less qualified than I am to comment on the state of the nation. For instance, Rush Limbaugh, a man who clearly flunked economics, or Michael Moore, who clearly doesn’t see the hypocrisy between railing on capitalism while outsourcing his web site. Plus, a lot of political discussions around the water cooler have an annoying tendency to sound like brawls over which sports team is better.

Then there are the True Believers, a term I’ve used mainly for the right, but the left version of same is no less prevalent. You know the guy. The True Believer not only is passionate about his beliefs, but he wants you to be passionate about them, too. I’m all for passion, but it’s a religion for these types. I believe in my country. I believe in God. I don’t believe in religion. Go chew on that for a while.

I used to say that ideology was the opiate of the people, but that’s kind of stupid. Everyone has an ideology, even if it’s “All politics are crap.” But my blood pressure starts to skyrocket when someone wants to lecture me on the wrongness of my own beliefs. In the worst case, I worked next to a guy who went from tree-hugging eco-thumper to Ron Paul groupie in the span of thirty seconds. There is nothing more aggravating than to sit next to someone day in and day out who tells you that you’re a bad human being for not belonging to either Greenpeace or the Tea Party.

I’m all for rejecting the labels of conservative and liberal – it’s all a fallacy anyway, but Jesus, to go to both extremes? That’s madness. And the world has had more than its fill of mad men. Too bad there will never be a shortage of them.

But some things I think need to be stated for the record.

  • I reject party affiliation out of hand. The job of a political party is to present candidates for me to choose to serve me, the citizen and tax payer, in the running of my town, county, state, and country. Unless I’m campaigning for someone or actually running for office, I am not a Democrat or a Republican or any other party. I’m the customer, not the salesman.
  • Or to put it more bluntly, I do not live in the Democratic States of America or the Republican States of America. I live in the United States of America. Technically speaking, the parties are disposable, and breaking up both major parties would probably be the best thing that ever happened to this country. Really, do you think that the GOP being collectively obsessive compulsive about its platform makes it better than the Democrats? It just makes them have to bend into pretzels to get the same number of conflicting beliefs to fit under the tent. On the other hand, that same problem means the Democrats could have a unanimous majority in the House and Senate and still not find enough people to agree on something to field a decent softball team. Break them up. They serve no real purpose anymore.
  • The average American citizen should refrain from calling anything socialist or communist. No, fighting in Korea or Vietnam does not give you a free pass. It’s simple. Communist (and to some extent socialist) systems are command economies. America is engaged in propping up a free market system that’s been long-overdue to have some safeties placed on it. That is impossible in a command economy, of which there are now only two left in the world. The one off the coast of Florida has decided enough time has passed to start experimenting with that market economy thangie we’ve been using for 300 years. The other one in Pyongyang is bankrupt, just like all the other command economies that have gone out of business. There is not one headquartered in Washington. So if you use the word “communist” in your argument, and there’s no party membership card in your wallet, you automatically lose the argument.
  • I don’t like taxes, but I’m pretty pissed off about the big tax bill headed my way for the cuts in 2001 and 2003 and those checks that went out in 2008. Your taxes went up in 2001, people. You just haven’t gotten the credit card bill yet.
  • I tend to throw rocks at the right more than the left because the left is easier to ignore. I’d like it (and a lot of liberals I know would like it) if they’d show a backbone and stop pretending the 1960’s never ended. The right needs to get over the fact that it does not have a monopoly on truth or patriotism. It’s like having to pick between Abby Hoffman and Joseph Goebbels. Why can’t it be Jon Stewart and Dennis Miller (when he was still funny)? (And if you think Dennis Miller was once a liberal, you weren’t paying attention way back when.)
  • The end of the world is not looming. And it takes a sick mind to get all giddy over the idea that it is.
  • I drank a shot of Jameson when bin Laden was killed. Does that make me a bad man? Would you do the same when Hitler died? Hell, had I been around when Hitler ate a bullet, I’d have thrown an orgy.
  • It’s okay you don’t think like I do. I haven’t walked in your shoes. You haven’t walked in mine. Just don’t try to force fit your shoe size on me because you think that it’ll be a religious experience.