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.

Hmm…

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.