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Every Author Needs a Dead Mule
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

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Sometimes an Old-Fashioned Phone Call . . .


I had a delightful surprise yesterday. Authors love to hear from readers, of course, especially when they have nice things to say. But I’ve never had a phone call from a family member of one of the people I’ve written about. Even better, the caller had lovely compliments for my book The Road to Frogmore and wanted to offer access to family records I did not even know existed.
 
The caller was a lateral descendent of Miss Ellen Murray, the life-long partner of Laura Towne. She is the great-great-grandniece of Ellen and has spent years studying Frogmore, the Penn School, and the events on St. Helena Island. How did she find me? She’s not an internet person, so she didn’t just go online. Apparently a friend who was traveling in South Carolina discovered the book and told her about it. She asked for a copy for Christmas, and had just now finished reading it.  She sent her husband to the library to see what he could find out, and he evidently turned up my website, which gave her my contact information. So reaching out was not easy – it took a lot of effort.
 
But what a fun time we had on the phone. We chatted almost non-stop for an hour, and I was so fascinated that I didn’t even mind turning off the Dog Show.  She possesses diaries written by her various grandmothers going back several generations, and they include Ellen’s sister, who visited St. Helena both during the Civil War and after.
 
Our information exchange was valuable on both sides. She corrected my spelling of a name that I had gotten consistently wrong. I informed her of the existence of a copy of Laura’s diary she did not know about. And we discovered some contradictory information – her sources say one thing, while mine say another. I was so intrigued that I was up early this morning to dig back through my sources. Already I think I’ve found a plausible explanation for the discrepancy, but we shall have to talk again. I can hardly wait for our next conversation.  

I keep catching a glimpse of another fascinating story behind this surprise. Is there a book in it? Who knows? I do know I’m feeling a renewed enthusiasm for doing  more research on what I thought was an exhausted topic.

Do You Known What Kindle Readers Think?


Do You Fit This Image of a Kindle Reader?  
Do Your Readers Share These Traits?

Shared from http://www.writtenwordmedia.com/2015/09/09/anatomy-kindle-owner/




Another Reason Why Reader Reviews Really Matter




Recently I was invited to submit my book, The Road to Frogmore to a website that provides great publicity to an author's target audience -- to people who are likely to read the book in question.  But before an author can submit a book, there must be evidence that it is not pure trash -- in other words, REVIEWS. They can come from various places, like Amazon, B&N, etc. But there are parameters that must be met:

* The average rating of the book must be a 4.0 out of 5.0.  OK, I can handle that.  The Road to Frogmore's average is 4.7.

* The book must have received at least 10 reviews in one place. And there's where I fail. Frogmore has only 9 reviews on Amazon.

I'll go on record here that I will never pay for a review. There are people who will review for a fee. And for a higher fee, they will write the review by this afternoon. They also guarantee a high rating, which makes the whole exercise meaningless.  Too many authors have already gamed the ratings system to their own advantage, and I refuse to be one of them.

However, I am not above a bit of begging -- especially to those readers who have already read Frogmore but "Just never got around to leaving a review."  Please, would you take the time to leave a comment on Amazon about the book?  It doesn't have to be a long, theoretic analysis. I'm not asking for something that would please your high school literature teacher. All you need is a statement about whether or not you liked the book, or what made you enjoy it, or who else might be interested in reading it. A brief twenty-word statement will do the trick.

My "site activity report" for this website shows that 1288 people looked at this blog yesterday. Surely one or two of you have read the book! Feel free to use a pen name if you don't want the world to know who you are (except to Amazon.) 

Thanks for helping out!

Bright Idea: A Second Edition

My first Civil War book, A Scratch with the Rebels, was published traditionally by a small press in 2007. As is frequently the case with traditional presses, the editor approached my book with some pre-conceived ideas. She was looking for Civil War books that would appeal to people who were touring battle sites and visiting their museum stores. With that purpose in mind, she decided to make the book slightly oversized (10" x 8") so that it would be noticeable on the shelves. That, in turn produced a rather thin book, so to increase the page count, she asked for lots and lots of illustrations. If I mentioned a person or a place, I was to have a picture or a map to accompany it. And to increase the amount of white space per page, she decided to use a two-column format, which added that extra 3/4 of an inch down the middle of each page.

Now none of those decisions were bad in themselves, but together they created an impression that weakened the book. The over-size shape made the book floppy rather than substantial. The two-column format gave the impression of a middle-school social-studies textbook rather than the serious and academically rigorous study that it was. The preponderance of pictures added to the schoolbook look. The scholarly apparatus of notes and bibliography ended up in the back of the book, where endnotes were hard to locate and failed to provide the additional source information they were meant to convey. Add to that a problem with the binding equipment used by the company, and the result was an ugly book with a peeling cover and off-putting visual appeal. Worse, it carried a high price tag that put it out of reach of many customers. I managed to sell a couple hundred by strong-arming my friends, but the publishing company couldn't even get the book into those museum shops.

When the publisher decided to give up on their attempts to publish an e-book, they were willing to return electronic publishing rights to me. My decision to re-work the book and publish the e-book as a second edition was the smartest move I made. I re-arranged and combined several chapters to improve the flow, changed important endnotes so that they appeared in the body of the text, and removed other academic notations. I also took out most of the illustrations, which had caused multiple problems in the publisher's first attempt to publish the book electronically. As a substitute for those who wanted to see what a particular person or location looked like, the e-book included links to my Pinterest boards, where I had posted the pictures from the book. The only scholarly apparatus that remained was the bibliography. To strengthen the impression that this was a new and improved book, I asked my designer to come up with a more appealing cover.

This refurbished second edition proved to be very popular. Why? Because I re-designed it to meet the needs of its intended audience.  Instead of trying to reach the casual tourist visitor, the new edition appealed to reenactors and Civil War buffs, especially to groups whose ancestors were a part of this particular story. In the last six months this second edition has sold more copies than the total number of sales for the first edition over a period of seven years. Lessons learned:


#1. Know who your readers are and meet their needs.
#2. If you can make a book better, do it.
#3. Don't be afraid to admit your mistakes.

Seven Tips to Help You Make Friends with Your Readers


As a former teacher, I always expected a standard reaction when someone asked me what I did. I got one of those just last week. A woman was doing her best to connect with me at a stand-up cocktail party. She herself was new in town, managing a small office that provided business services to other businesses. She finally quit talking about her company and asked me what I did. I told her I was a writer, and she looked puzzled. "What do you write?" she asked. "Novels," I replied. The look on her face said it all. She might as well have just stepped in a nasty sidewalk doggy mess. "Oh," she said, and then she was gone -- abruptly, without a word of transition. She had just marked me as an untouchable. OK. I guess she wasn't much of a reader. But she was also an exception.

One of the hardest things I have had to learn since I started writing was that most readers really like writers. Real readers get excited when they find out that I'm an author.  They want to ready my books. They want to know how I do what I do. They want to talk about characters as if they are our mutual friends. Bu there's still a problem--a barrier to be overcome. I don't want to be the obnoxious character who walks into a room saying, "Here I am -- an author -- please come do me homage." And making those connections is even harder in social media situations.So how do you turn a stranger into an adoring fan, or at least into "someone who knows your name"? Here are a few tips  I picked up at a recent writers' conference.


1. Be friendly. Show that stranger that you are interested in her, no matter how odd she is. After all, she might give you the seed from which to grow a new character.

2. Be willing to work with others who love and write books. Share your readers with other authors and help publicize their books. Mutual interests make good friends.

3. Keep your personal troubles and traumas out of your internet posts, or at least use two accounts, one for personal life, another for the business of writing. Whatever you do, don't whine!

4. But do share the fun things that happen to you--not how much money you just made, but the strange red chicken that wandered into your yard. Talk about the activities that give you pleasure, the kind deed you observed someone else do, or a particularly lovely moment. Let readers see your personality.

5. Encourage your readers to weigh in on a controversial issue, but avoid taking a stance that will alienate some part of them. I wouldn't endorse a political figure, for example, but I would speak out about the need to have a public vote on an issue that people care about. Here, we recently had a controversy over whether wine should be sold in grocery stores. Getting the question on the ballot was a tough fight, so I was comfortable urging people to sign that petition without telling them which side I would support.

6. On Twitter, try using a robot to schedule your postings. That will let you make sure you are not saying the same old thing to the same few people over and over again. Bookbuzzr.com is good for this because you can see a list of your posts, and schedule them so that they do not repeat at the same time or on the same day.

7. If you're trying to encourage people to buy your book, use your blog or facebook post to talk about the writing process, the problems you have had with the story, or the research you have done to make the setting come alive. Sell yourself, not your book.