"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Here's one of the texts I'm thinking of using on the back cover of my new book, The Road to Frogmore. I'd really like your input. If you picked up this book and read the back cover blurb, would you want to read more?
What could possibly go wrong? Laura Town and her life-long friend Ellen
Murray joined the Port Royal Experiment in 1862 to test their abolitionist
ideals against the realities of slaves abandoned by their owners in the Low
Country of South Carolina. They hoped to find a place they could call home, as
well as an outlet for their talents as schoolteacher and doctor. They traveled
as part of a reputable band of missionaries
from Boston and New York under the sponsorship of Salmon P. Chase,
Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury. It seemed like a good idea at the time,
until . . .
experienced the climate—torrential rainfall, violent storms spawned over
the Atlantic, searing heat, long periods of fog tainted by the gasses coming
off the swamps, alligators, tropical cockroaches, bedbugs, and clouds of
swarming mosquitoes and “no-see-ums” that left nasty bites in their wake.
Until they met the slaves themselves—full of fear and
resentment of white people caused by centuries of cruelty, slaves who had been
forbidden to learn to read or see the outside world, slaves whose superstitions
included night hags who sucked the breath from the unwary, evil graybeards who
haunted local trees, and unfree spirits who rolled up and down the roads at
night in balls of fire.
Until the dedication of the missionaries found itself tested
by lack of food, furniture, medicine, and the bare necessities of life. Until the unity of the abolitionist effort
fell apart under the strains of religious differences and unrecognized
prejudices. Until quarrels over cotton crops, land sales and recruitment for
black army regiments sent even the wisest of leaders home in despair.
And until the combination of encroaching military battles
and raging epidemics of malaria, yellow fever, and smallpox made death their
constant companion. Could two independent women survive the Civil War and
achieve their goal of turning slaves into citizens?
The BBC News Magazine has been running an ongoing discussion
of the differences between British and American English. Ite’s an amusing
discussion, but an important one for American writers who set their stories on
England. We might call the discussion, “How Not to Sound like a Bloody
American!” Here’s an introduction to the problem, written by Matthew Engel last
July. I’ll follow it up with some readers’
additions in the coming days.
culture is ubiquitous in Britain on TV and the web. As our computers talk to us
in American, I keep having to agree to a license spelt with an s. I am invited
to print something in color without the u. I am told "you ghat mail".
It is, of course, always e-mail - never our own more natural usage, e-post.
an ex-American resident, I remain a big fan of baseball. But I sit over here
and listen to people who know nothing of the games talk about ideas coming out
of "left field". They speak about "three strikes and you're
out" or "stepping up to the plate" without the foggiest idea
what these phrases mean. I think the country has started to lose its own sense
many respects, English and American are not coming together. When it comes to
new technology, we often go our separate ways. They have cellphones - we have
mobiles. We go to cash points or cash machines - they use ATMs. We have still
never linked hands on motoring terminology - petrol, the boot, the bonnet,
known in the US as gas, the trunk, the hood.
in the course of my own lifetime, countless routine British usages have either
been superseded or are being challenged by their American equivalents. We no
longer watch a film, we go to the movies. We increasingly have trucks
not lorries. A hike is now a wage or price rise not a walk in the
and pointless new usages appear in the media and drift into everyday
- Faze, as in "it doesn't faze
- Hospitalize, which really is a vile word
- Wrench for spanner
- Elevator for lift
- Rookies for newcomers, who seem to have
flown here via the sports pages.
- Guy, less and less the centrepiece of
the ancient British festival of 5 November - or, as it will soon be known,
11/5. Now someone of either gender.
- And, starting to creep in, such horrors as ouster,
the process of firing someone, and outage, meaning a power cut. I
always read that as outrage. And it is just that.
am all for a living, breathing language that evolves with the times. I accept
that estate agents prefer to sell apartments rather than flats - they
sound more enticing. I accept that we now have freight trains rather
than goods trains - that's more accurate.
Many British people
step up to the plate and have ideas out of left field.
accept that sometimes American phrases have a vigour and vivacity. A relative
of mine told me recently he went to a business meeting chaired by a Californian
woman who wanted everyone to speak frankly. It was "open kimono".
How's that for a vivid expression?
what I hate is the sloppy loss of our own distinctive phraseology through sheer
idleness, lack of self-awareness and our attitude of cultural cringe. We
encourage the diversity offered by Welsh and Gaelic - even Cornish is making a
comeback. But we are letting British English wither.
is a very distinct country from the US. Not better, not worse, different. And
long live that difference. That means maintaining the integrity of our own
gloriously nuanced, subtle and supple version - the original version - of the
is an edited version of Matthew Engel's Four Thought broadcast.
In recognition of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, "Civil War-Era
Memories" features excerpts from The Memphis Daily Appeal of 150 years
ago. Perspective from our staff is in italics. More excerpts at
June 11, 1862
(The APPEAL has left Memphis and is publishing from Grenada, Miss.)
Federal officials in Memphis have announced they plan to leave the
community and the businessmen alone as much as possible. In other words,
the captors say they will interfere as little as possible with the
domestic arrangements and operations of the city.
June 12, 1862
Letter from a Lady (Memphis) -- The Yankees thus far are on very good
behavior. Col. Fitch, it is hoped, is not such a beast as Butler. So
far as I can learn, not a scrap of a Federal flag has yet been hung out
save by the invaders themselves, and not a single instance of a Memphian
greeting the enemy cordially . . .
Memphis Intelligence: Lewd women have of late been walking the
streets at night, much to the annoyance of the ladies. We understand
that the military authorities and the police force will cooperate in
measures to prevent the violation of the city ordinances, in this
respect, in future.
June 13, 1862
The APPEAL for the Soldiers -- In order to accommodate our friends of
the army that now, or may hereafter be, in camp in this vicinity, we
have made arrangements by which the several regiments or military
organizations can receive the APPEAL daily at our usual office price, or
at one-half the cost necessarily charged by the news-boys.
June 16, 1862
Persons who live near the city and come to town every day to make
their purchases and obtain newspapers, were at a loss to determine
whether they have to take the oath. We understand the authorities
construed it to apply to all except women and children.
The order for the suppression of Confederate money took every one by
surprise, and was considered very hard by the great mass of our people,
who have nothing else. Many who went to bed rich on Friday night awoke
to find themselves "poor, indeed," the next morning.
Compiled by Rosemary Nelms and Jan Smith, The Commercial Appeal News Library
day now, the final proofread manuscript of my new book, The Road to Frogmore: Turning Slaves into Citizens
be back from the editor. Next step: I'll be looking for two or three more beta
readers to write an advance review from which I can draw a blurb or two
to appear on cover or promotional material. The review should also be designed so that it can be posted on the book's Amazon page once it is published.
The book tells the story of
Laura M. Towne, an abolitionist missionary, and her life-long companion,
Ellen Murray, who traveled to South Carolina in the middle of the Civil
War to bring education and medical care to newly-freed slaves. Laura and Ellen faced challenges from vengeful Confederate slave-owners, greedy cotton agents, resentful Yankee soldiers, land-grabbing carpetbaggers, and other nefarious characters.They struggled with tropical storms, mosquitoes and sand fleas, malarial swamps, odorous pluff mud, smallpox epidemics, rumors of gray-beard ghosts, hanging trees, and night hags. Despite them all, Laura and Ellen stayed at Frogmore for 40 years, and established the Penn School, which has now evolved into the Penn Center, a historical center dedicated to the preservation of Gullah culture.
I am planning publication around the first of October and a formal Launch Event at the Penn Center during the second weekend of November. Every year the Penn Center celebrates "Heritage Days" with a four-day cultural extravaganza. I will be honored to be a part of that event.
have the time and energy to help out by reading the book and writing your review by the end of August, please contact me privately so
that I can get a review copy off to you. If I use your review, I will, of course, give you full credit for your contributions and help publicize your own publications in return.
This is the continuation of yesterday's article on Amazon Algorithms:
Yes, in a recent Kindleboards post,
you mentioned that Amazon’s changes would effect those using KDP
Select. Can you summarize what’s been going on and what the changes may
mean for authors?
Amazon has made significant changes to their popularity list
algorithms twice this year. Around March 19, they started using three
lists at once. Around May 3, they condensed that to a single list. The
new list works as I’ve detailed above.
If you’re in Select and have been doing book giveaways, you may have
noticed that you started selling fewer copies after a free run starting
March 19. You’ve probably done even worse since May 3. That’s because
free copies used to be weighted equally with paid sales on the
popularity lists–which also looked at most recent sales most heavily.
But now that free downloads only count for about 10% of a paid sale,
and the lists look at the last 30 days of sales rather than the last
week or so, it can be really hard to land high on the popularity lists
unless you give away a colossal amount of books. (Though if you can make
it there, you’ll stick for longer.) Without the visibility of the
popularity lists to drive your sales, you probably won’t see the
“post-free bump” we grew used to in the first few months of Select.
Select can still be an effective program, but for the moment, it’s far
less useful for generating sales than it once was.
For instance, back in February, I gave away 9000 copies of my fantasy novel The White Tree
That was enough to put me at #1 on the Epic Fantasy popularity list for
several days. I sold a lot of books! In March, I gave away another 4700
copies. On a similar version of the list we’re currently seeing, that
was only enough to boost me to #65. I didn’t sell nearly as many books!
For a more in-depth look at these changes, check out my series of posts here
, and here
In that last post, you talked about how the new changes may
make it harder for authors with 99-cent ebooks to rank as well. What
exactly are you seeing and what price points seem to be favored?
Yes. Price now seems to be a factor as well. Collecting data on this
is really hard–in fact, I can’t even say with total certainty this
theory is correct–but there’s a strong correlation between price and
relative position on the popularity lists. In short, the higher your
price, the better you’ll place relative to your overall sales.
The favored price point in this new system is “as much as you can get
away with charging.” It looks like $0.99 books have been pretty well
massacred. $2.99 books can still place well (particularly when they’re
boosted by giveaways), but they’re at a noticeable disadvantage.
Something like $5.99 – $12.99 looks to be the ideal range at the moment.
Affordable enough for people to buy in droves (if the quality is
there), but with a high enough price to hang with all the high-priced
traditionally published books.
This is not a call to jack up your prices. If you raise your book to
$7.99 and only sell 20% of what you were doing at $2.99, you’ll be worse
off on the popularity lists. And remember, the popularity lists are
just one way to generate sales (although it is a significant one). But
since price appears to be directly relevant now, it’s something to be
aware of when positioning your book.
Any thoughts on why Amazon might be making these changes? To push people into their ideal $2.99 – $9.99 pricing bracket?
I don’t know. Could be, but it’s not like Amazon made any
announcements about this. I don’t think Amazon builds these algorithms
with overly specific goals in mind. Like, nobody in Seattle woke up one
morning and said, “And now I ruin John Locke’s life! Ah ha ha ha!” As
far as I can see, all they care about is what will make them the most
money now and continue to do so ten years from now.
Do you have any parting thoughts on what these changes might
mean for authors who hope to do well in the second half of 2012 and
beyond? It seems like some of the “tricks” indies have used to
outperform mainstream books (99-cent price tags, KDP Select free days,
etc.) might not work as well in the future. Will this force us all (Big
6, small press, and self-published authors) to sell and promote our
books in the same way?
This is just one more step in the ongoing and absurdly fast-paced
evolution of the ebook market. The algorithms could change again
tomorrow or six months from now. Amazon makes changes all that time.
That said, in the meantime, Select isn’t the money-printing machine
it once was. To sell many books, you’ll have to do more with it than
“set book free, sit on couch, drink fruity drink.” You need to have a
secondary strategy to make your book visible after your free run’s over,
or use your free run to specifically generate visibility for your other
books. So maybe the strategy is to make the first book in a series free
on a regular basis, or taking out an ad to run the day after your book
reverts to paid to try to cluster as many sales into one day and climb
the bestseller lists, etc. Indies are still in the process of working
If these changes stick around long-term, we might see a convergence
of prices, tactics, etc. between indie and trad publishers. But I think
that, for better or worse, we’ll see yet another change before the year
is up. Maybe several of them. While the current changes don’t look good
for Amazon’s indie crew, we still have the advantage of being able to
adapt faster to them–and to whatever comes next.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Ed!