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Riding Off Into the Sunset October 26, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, New Mexico, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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If a song can be said to have an impact on my life, it might be Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin'”. I have always liked the line about getting out of the way if you can’t lend a hand. Looking at publishing this way has kept everything in perspective for me over a long writing career.

Ebooks changed the publishing world. Dead tree books will always be around but I found out Friday that there will be a lot fewer from a Big 5 publisher in the future. My editor of quite a few westerns (including Sonora Noose and The Great West Detective Agency) was gone. Along with her apparently went the entire Berkley line of westerns. Earlier this year they had gunned down all their monthly series. With this lynching, I’d say upward of 100 books won’t be published next year. The times are, indeed, changing.

This opens the door for a slew of indie presses to fill the vacuum. And for VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing, where the author writes, edits, produces and markets the book–every aspect of traditional publishing all in the author’s grip). Check out Western Fictioneers, Western Trail Blazer, Rough Edges Press, and more riding down the trail every day.

At the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium I gave a talk on how the weird western has saved traditional westerns at least twice before. We may be looking at it happening a third time. The times are a’ changin’. And we have to move along or get plowed under. For one, I see this and am doing what I can to stay in the saddle.

One benefit of speaking at the LCCS is meeting a lot of great people. Here’s a picture of me with a very nice lady, 2014 >Mrs NM Kori Zwaagstra.

(Those are some of my books in the center!)

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium

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Playing In My Own Sandbox (part 3) April 20, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, history, VIPub, Wild West, writing.
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The word circulated last week that Random Penguin had axed four different western series. This wasn’t unexpected–I pretty much assumed this in December and realized what the merger of Random House and Penguin meant last year when it was announced. I said in an article by Rod Miller in the Feb 2014 issue of WWA Roundup Magazine about the merger: After the dust settles on most mergers, fewer titles are published and fewer editors are needed.

No swami crystal ball sf futurist navel gazing required. That’s how business is done. The easy explanation was also in the article where I said: A merger yields one company selling into a customer base inadequate to keep the two in business.

In other words, the number of readers for separate companies isn’t big enough but a smaller output of books to that same readership might let the merged company survive. That’s the way legacy publishers have to work. Be the biggest fish swimming in the ocean or die. The problem is when your ocean dries up to a mere mud puddle. Big doesn’t work for survival then.

VIPub is different. Ebooks have changed the game, and for the reader (and probably the author) for the better. Four cancelled series = 50 books a year. That’s quite a void for the nimble VIPub ebook author to fill. In the case of westerns, a lot of the readers don’t want or use ereaders, but thanks Amazon, thanks for CreateSpace. Print on Demand! With overhead smaller for independent publishers, smaller lead times and more agile editing and production, this deficit can be addressed fast.

And it seems to be in the works. At least one indie publisher is working on several possible new series, and I expressed my interest. I would love to have input into how these series are structured, since they can be done radically different from legacy publishing. I pitched several weird western limited series years back, to no takers. Maybe now. Interlocking stories is a possibility. A return to the old-school sf trilogy, only with westerns? Open-ended series are fine but sometimes you want a story to, you know, end. Fifty books is a big gap to fill and numbers are on the side of the VIPub/indie publisher. Ten percent of that former legacy market is good money.

But reaching it might be difficult since Walmart isn’t likely to take PoD books due to size and nonreturns. That will go into a future blog post on discoverability and pushing your own series titles.

A tribute to all the fallen heroes in those four series.

Analysis Paralysis January 19, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, money, VIPub.
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“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Lord Kelvin’s statement works for things technological. If you can’t measure it, what do you really have, anyway? When it comes to matters like psychology, mathematical analysis gets chancy. (Mike Stackpole tweeted on this article earlier today) Can you mathematically define happiness? Considering that they used chaos theory ought to give a clue to that. The starting point (boundary conditions) affect the outcome. Begin a wee bit differently and you get, possibly, a hugely different result.

VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) authors have to choose not only where we start but what our desired outcome is. That decided, how do we measure it?

For years I have followed investment newsletters. The more I look at them, the more contradictory the advice becomes. The recommendations turn into Johnson-Nyquist background noise. For every one saying “buy” another says “sell.” It comes down to my gut feeling and how I see the future. The best that can be done to avoid the analysis paralysis is to choose an advisor who produces the best result, however imperfect, and ignore the rest. It all averages out to average mush otherwise.

The big question in VIPub is how to get eyes onto your book. I’ve tried lots of schemes and will try many more to find better ones. But the analysis of how to say one is better than the other technique shouldn’t be too hard. It shouldn’t be just what sells books. You can rack up impressive numbers by giving your book away for damned little. A different metric is to my liking. The money in the bank is the counter, the measurement, the end result of various experiments. The Laffer Curve might well pertain here. How much should we spend on promotion/advertising for the biggest monetary return? (I won’t entertain political argument on this–I think the Laffer Curve is a model of reality and don’t care about your opinion). If pricing low and selling huge numbers works better than higher prices and fewer sales, go for it. But it could well be the other way around. The measurement: total money in your pocket.

The trouble comes in analysis paralysis, having too much data. Reading other blogs on this gives me the impression nothing works–and everything works. David Morrell once said at a WWA panel, 10% of your time ought to go for promotion. And no more. Your time is better spent writing (and I agree). But what kind of promo? Another bit of advice was to make a list of all the possible promotional gimmicks you can do–then pick 3 to pursue. A new wrinkle is introduced with paid advertising. Do FB or Google ads work? Maybe not if an ad has to be seen 7 times to be effective. They can sell more ads than you can afford. Again, what return do you get for your money? The maximum bang for the buck?

You as a VIPub author have to decide, but if you read too much and think about what you can actually do too little, you are going to end up in a sea of despair. Analysis paralysis. Pick and choose. What works for you won’t necessarily work for others. But do choose. Then do it. (And if it doesn’t give you the money (not sales) you expected, try something else.)

analysis paralysis cartoon photo Fin16s.jpg

Triage March 17, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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Ideas are easy, developing them isn’t. Worse, choosing which to work on is even more daunting. I have a row of notebooks filled with ideas accumulated over the years and, as good as some are, I will never try to use them because others are better.

This segment of a Dilbert cartoon seems appropriate.

Did you ever have to decide?

Did you ever have to decide?

So how do you choose? Excitement has to be a factor for any writer. All you have in way of capital is time that must be spent properly. An idea that won’t let go of your imagination is a good candidate, but writing and rewriting it in your head isn’t good enough if you want to sell it to a publisher. Think of a Venn diagram of all the ideas you want to write and ideas that are salable. The intersection of the two sets is where you write. That’s not to say any other point in your “what you want to write about” set isn’t worthy. But to sell to an editor, that overlap has to be there.

Otherwise, VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) is the way to go. Do it yourself. Damn the commercial sales, full steam ahead! This opens vistas galore, but the money isn’t likely to be as good (face it, not every book is going to be 50 Shades of Gray, which, depending on your outlook, is a good thing. But I am talking sales, not content.)

So, traditional dead tree publishing requires that overlap in idea/commercial. That eliminates a lot of what is always kicking around in my head. For a year or two I’ve wanted to do a Gormenghast type fantasy but it doesn’t have the feel of something that would sell. But it would be great to write (from my personal standpoint). Likely, it’ll stay on the backburner until a mystery and an sf book, both dancing on tippytoe through my head for years, are done since both strike me as great fun to write and commercial. One way of deciding if an idea is “good enough” is the test of time. Does it endure in your head and even grow? Or do newer ideas supplant?

You’ve got to decide, then stick with it to finish the writing before moving on. Don’t be seduced by the Siren’s lure of a “better” idea or you’ll never see a completed story.

An Elephant Ate My iPhone! March 7, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, fantasy, iPhone, writing.
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Not *my* cellphone, but a woman at the Arizona Renaissance Fair had one of the pachyderms reach out, snatch her phone and chomp down on it. Luckily, it wasn’t a blackberry and tasted bad so the elephant spit it out. You don’t get trophies like iPhones with elephant tooth marks at every venue.

That was only one of the stories of the fair. But hitting the rewind button for a second, on March 3 Michael Stackpole and I autographed all day long at Lady Chamberlain’s Book Shop. I don’t know how many years we’ve been doing this but it is several and always fun. This year I went in costume borrowed from Scott and Pat. A picture (and that’s me in the middle, if you get that far–Chantelle stage right, Jami on the left. Thanks, miladies!)

2013RenFaire

Another odd story of the autographing. A group of five came up, saw that I was autographing God of War and figured I knew everything about mythology. “We can’t get a crossword puzzle clue,” said one. “What god married his sister?” Between Mike and me, we came up with Osiris. I’m not sure this is exhaustive, those gods being such rakes, but the answer satisfied the group. I hope they find a good name for their kid.

In spite of it being cloudy (or I would have suffocated in the heavy velvet pirate coat) I still sunburned a bit. The common areas are watered down in the morning. By afternoon the dirt had turned to fine dust that settled on everything, books and me included. That’s what you get with 17k people walking by.

After sundown and closing. Don Juan (of Don Juan and Miguel) invited us to his birthday party. Always fun seeing the behind the scenes people and how different their real personalities are from the on-stage persona.

Books were sold, fun was had, new people were met, fans spoken to (Taos Hermit and his family stopped by) and I’m already looking forward to next year and doing it again. [For those of you who want books autographed sooner and not in Phoenix, I’ll be autographing here in Albuquerque on March 30, 1-3pm, at Hastings Entertainment, 840 Juan Tabo NE)

The book that garnered the most attention from Ren Fair attendees.

Career Guide Your Job in Hell

Career Guide Your Job in Hell

You Don’t Have to Be Crazy, But It Helps February 28, 2013

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, awards, business, conventions, e-books, fantasy, VIPub, writing.
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Writing can be so strange. Sitting and writing is great, but no much else is required now. A writer is a small corporation, a business doing everything from thinking up the ideas to marketing them (I call this VIPub–Vertically Integrated Publishing).

I’ve spent the past month working on an sf book. It’s done, it’s sent out and when I get the okay, I will let you know all about it and the exciting project surrounding it. Since I spent most of January coughing up my lungs, not as much work got done then as I’d’ve liked. So, two months gone, only one book written so far this year.

Now that it is off to the editor, I had to catch up on other writing chores today. Updated my website. Wrote this blog. My accountant is asking where all my financial stuff is. Yeah, tax season. But then it’s always tax season when you need to file quarterlies and tons of other forms. This morning I went through a half dozen questions–Q&A–for an Writer’s Digest article on tie-in writing. Sent it off. Jeff Mariotte asked if I’d like to join him in an autographing at the end of March. Sure, it’s here in town, 4 miles from my front door and a block from the high school where I graduated, uh, er, a while ago. Looks good to get Ian Tregellis and Steve Gould there, too, plus some western fiction and nf writers. I sent out a bunch of emails and am happy at the response. Struggled with Walgreen’s over my online account, did too many mundane things like laundry and packing and…you get the idea. Not writing things.

But one writing thing I am delighted about was a fan letter from “Raven Van Helsing.” He’s the guy whose YouTube videos
I used as a guide for both God of War 1 and 2.

I had sent him a copy of GoW1. Here he is with it.

Raven Van Helsing with GOD OF WAR 1

Raven Van Helsing with GOD OF WAR 1

I’ll be autographing this, God of War 2 and Career Guide to Your Job in Hell at the Arizona Renaissance Faire March 3, all day at Lady Ann’s Book Shoppe along with the inimitable Michael Stackpole.

Stop by and see us. If you can’t make it, you can still snag the books here. Huzzah!

Scribe Award nominated novel

Scribe Award nominated novel

God of War 2

God of War 2

Career Guide Job in Hell

Career Guide Job in Hell

Twinkies Document #1890 December 10, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, charity, e-books, ideas, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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…and what it means to publishing.

Hostess Inc’s bankruptcy sent shock waves through the snack food world. Who would have ever thought Zombieland was going to be a documentary? Parts of the bankruptcy filing, though, point up something that can be of immense value to those of us in VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) and in so many other fields.

Banks have pretty much stopped lending money, even to the most qualified. There are a lot of reasons for this but Dodd-Franks is part of it, requiring banks to have immense reserves against failure. With the Fed only giving, well, zero, interest, banks won’t give much in the way of interest on their deposits. Come the first of the year Tier I reserve requirements change significantly, too. This will soak up even more money that might go for loans. (The banks will buy gold).

But the Hostess bankruptcy brings out a new way of financing. Or not so new, merely gqthering steam. The buzzword for it is “private equity.” This can come from hedge funds or individual investors (think Warren Buffett) but they operate at levels swapping billions of dollars not hundreds or thousands. One of my favorite charities, if you want to call it that (and I don’t, really–I see this as what capitalism is all about) is http://www.kiva.org Muhammed Yunas won a Nobel Prize in 2006 for the idea of micro loans.

We’ve seen crowdsourcing bring in $200meg to save PBR at BuyABeerCompany.com Document #1890 is a proposal to use crowdsourcing to buy Hostess.

If you have a few bucks you can finance a painting or Twinkies or … a novel. Steve Sullivan’s recent kickstarter project financed his Death Tournament project. Matt Forbeck financed his “12 in ’12” project, writing 12 novels in 12 months, one trilogy at a time. With the Big 6, er 5, publishers pulling stunts like backing Author’s House rather than authors, we don’t have to be left out in the cold. Small amounts of money (relative to keeping Twinkies afloat or at least something more than put into time capsules) is within our grasp using the same technique. Find a project. Back it. Or get ambitious and start one of your own.

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-twinkies

Been There, Done That…But… December 9, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, fantasy, ideas, science fiction, VIPub, writing.
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A couple years ago I came up with a dynamite idea. Super stuff. Still think it’s great but there’s only time to do so much, and this one has been sitting on the cerebral back burner. Imagine my horror when I came across other authors’ use of that very idea. How dare they!

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, of course, and I looked this “usurpation” over. It’s, let’s be polite, terrible. Nothing like the idea still churning away like a green chile burrito in the gut, only in my head. I may still give this a try, but it has dropped a notch or two on my to-do list because of possible perception I was just copying what has already been done (and not too successfully if the Amazon sales # is accurate, which I doubt, but that’s another story).

Harken back to 1973. I had gone to Torcon World SF Convention and had a chance to meet one of the greats in sf fandom, Bob Tucker. We’d written a few letters back and forth and he had done a couple articles for my fanzine (think dead tree blog with staples, if you will). I had the horrible, awful, sinking feeling I would be introduced and have nothing whatsoever to say to him–and vice versa. Turned out to be a misplaced fear. Tucker greeted me like a friend of a thousand years and the first words out of his mouth were, “I stole an idea from you!” What? How can that be? And we spent the next hour talking…like friends of a thousand years.

But he had only taken something I’d written and run with it in a direction I never considered. Therein lies the truth about ideas.

They are never unique. It’s how you use them in a story that’s most important. Last night a friend said that Steinbeck stole Of Mice and Men from a social worker. I couldn’t pin him down if he meant flat out plagiarism or simply using information about the Dust Bowl. One is completely different from the other. It’s hard to believe anyone could see such social upheaval and physical destruction without thinking what a novel it would make. Ideas are out there everywhere.

The old story about John Campbell assigning the same idea to 3 writers might be apocryphal but the punch line is worth mentioning. Two turned in stories so far apart in treatment it was almost impossible to figure out what the kernel had been. What you do with the idea matters. And what writer hasn’t read something and thought, “I can do better than that!” And with elements completely missed and adding a character, and getting rid of that annoying part, but I can…

You get the idea. Which is the idea.

frankernest2

Slap Leather, Pilgrim October 7, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in autographing, business, conventions, e-books, history, iPad, New Mexico, outlaws, Texas, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing, zeppelin.
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The past few days have been spent getting a talk ready for the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium coming up at the end of the week. I’ll be on a panel Friday morning, give my talk on New Mexico railroads both Friday and Saturday afternoons. For me talking that much is a marathon event and I’ll likely end up hoarse (horse? Sorry!)

From a writing standpoint, I’m trying some new marketing ideas. I’m turning my notes into an epub for easier use on my iPad, then will post the ebook on my store next week (for free, of course) for anyone wanting to see more details since I don’t anticipate going too deep into any one part of the talk.) Along with the talks, I’ll be selling copies of Karl Lassiter and Jackson Lowry westerns, hyping Karl’s upcoming China Jack
because it is about railroads and specifically railroads in that region of the country, and seeing how a special project goes.

Just for the getogether, I’ve done a mini-anthology of three stories about Texas Rangers, past, present and future. A memento for the event. Something easily carried (as opposed to a copy of The Traditional West)

If this experiment works, I’ll do something similar, Tales from New Mexico, for the SW Festival of Books next May. Targeted to the regional interests, relatively inexpensive, a keepsake for remembering the event. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Who knows? I might even take pictures at the symposium and lost a couple here, but it will have to be next week. Still working on finding tidbits about railroads in NM (including the 1880 tale of a fish-shaped hot air balloon dropping blue origami flowers and a teacup on the Galisteo railhead. Most inexplicable.)

More soon. Until then you might want to check out